Syria’s Protest Movement
Grave military campaigns in Hama, Homs, Daraa and Deir ez-Zor ushered in the first week of Ramadan. The Sunday crackdown, the worst since the start of the Syrian revolution in March, resulted in the deaths of an estimated 136 – some 100 of whom, were killed in Hama. Though the month of Ramadan is meant to be characterized by charitable acts and well wishes, fears of broad scale unrest and violence following daily prayers have only been confirmed as no day since August 1, the first day of Ramadan, has passed without considerable fatalities. As the city of Hama reportedly lay in severe duress, and after months of diplomatic wrangling, the United Nations Security Council responded to the crisis in Syria with a Presidential Statement condemning the “widespread violations of human rights and the use of force against civilians by the Syrian authorities” and calling for an “immediate end to all violence”.
Protest flash points
On Thursday July 28, international media reported that a total of five civilians were shot and killed amid security sweeps in Deir ez-Zor and Madaya, a town situated in the Anti-Lebanon Mountains. Madaya has seen large protests in recent weeks.
Each Friday draws larger and larger crowds of anti-government protests, with numbers exceeding a million across the country last Friday, July 29 – as well as the Friday before. Reports of fatalities cary significantly. Most reportage suggest that some 23 civilians died
amid Friday’s uprisings with two people shot and killed in central Damascus, seven in the city’s suburbs, six in Deir ez-Zor and Boukamal, three in Lattakia and one in both Hama and Lattakia. Other reports indicate a lower figure of 11 people killed. There is no way to confirm.
The capital and surrounding areas saw significant unrest around the day, with protests in Midan, Zahera, and Haja al-Aswad where protestors were reportedly met with heavy gunfire while leaving Abraham Mosque.
The town of Jabal al-Zawiya was put under curfew and no one was allowed to go to mosques and the town of Kiswe saw the deaths of several civilians
and soldiers and the injuring of many other civilians during a violent security sweep in the evening.
According to activists, security forces shot and killed three members of the military who had attempted to defect and wounded another 13.
Meanwhile, there was an explosion at an oil pipeline in Tal Kalakh, about 160 kilometers north of Damascus. State media attribute the event to a terrorist attack
. The explosion occurred in the early hours of the morning and left a 15-meter crater in the earth.
On Saturday afternoon, Syrian security forces conducted raids in Deir ez-Zor
. International media reported that heavy gunfire could be heard throughout the afternoon. Between one and three people were reportedly shot dead in a neighboring village, according to activists. Rami Abdul-Rahmad, the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that some 60 vehicles of security reinforcements were sent to Deir ez-Zor during the day.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights as of July 30, some 1,888 people had died since the Syrian revolt began on March 15. Included among them, were an estimated 367 members of the country’s security and military forces.
Bloody Sunday, international fallout
On Sunday July 31, the Syrian military waged a full-fledged assault against opposition strongholds in Hama, Homs, Deir ez-Zor and Daraa. The day was a horrific one as an estimated 136 civilians were killed in broad-scale attacks
backed by tanks and armored vehicles. In Hama alone, some 100 people were reportedly killed. Security raids were conducted in a number of other locations as well, including Damascus and Idleb.
Tanks reportedly arrived in Hama in the early hours of the morning as electricity and water supplies were cut in a number of the city’s neighborhoods. Armored trucks and tanks reportedly blocked the entrances to the city around the day as the assault was carried out.
Hama has largely been operating outside of the control of security forces for over a month and a half. In recent weeks, the city’s Friday protestor numbers had swelled to well over half a million – with no significant reports of violence.
In Deir ez-Zor, activists reported that trucks mounted with machine guns fired into crowds of protestors. A number of mosque minarets were targeted in a move many saw as attempt to stir sectarian tensions. Snipers were reportedly on rooftops scattered across the city’s points of assualt.
Many reportedly died from fatal gunshot wounds to the head and hundreds of videos of the disaster and resulting fatalities were posted on the internet throughout the day. As the assault was carried out, many are said to have died, unable to reach medical care due to ongoing gunfire.
SANA, state-run media, reported that “confrontations with armed groups” in Hama and Deir ez-Zor had resulted in the deaths of six law enforcement officials. According to the government, armed gangs set fire to police stations and vandalized property in the city. The same men allegedly “set up roadblocks and barricades and burned tires at the entrance of the city and in its streets” and “scores of gunmen were stationed on the rooftops of the main buildings in the streets of the city, carrying machine guns and RPGs and shooting intensively to terrorize citizens.” The went on to state that, “armed groups were wandering the streets on motorcycles, using machine guns to impose a curfew on the citizens and setting fire to a number of public properties.”
The military campaign, which numerous foreign officials publicly termed tantamount to an act of war against a civilian populace, was likely intended to bring an end to the country’s deepening unrest in advance of Ramadan – which begins August 1.
There is no doubt, however, that this was a miscalculation; even as the assault was being carried out, Facebook and Twitter and numerous opposition sites erupted with plans to organize protests against what thousands termed the “Ramadan Massacre” on Twitter. The opposition website The Syrian Revolution 2011, called for “retaliation protests” Sunday night, stating that “Syria is bleeding
Reports and videos emerged suggesting that a number of Syrian military members had defected around the day, reportedly shaken by the events.
The international community was swift to issue statements of shocked condemnation. No other day in Syria, save for perhaps “Bloody Good Friday
” in April, surpassed the level of Sunday’s violence.
The Press Attache at the US Embassy in Damascus, JJ Harder said the events were akin to “full-on warfare” and constituted a “last act of utter desperation
” on the part of the Syrian government. On the issue of the armed gangs that the government continues to blame for the violence, Harder said, “There is one big armed gang in Syria and it’s named the Syrian government. That’s the armed gang that is pillaging its own cities, that’s the armed gang that is striking terror into the hearts of a lot of these people who are out there who just want to peacefully protest.”
Monday August 1 marked the start of Ramadan, and though it is a holiday characterized by well-wishing, charitable acts, and introspection, numerous parts of the country were under siege.
remained in Hama everyday this week as the city was under constant shelling, with reports indicating that a massive humanitarian crisis
is presently underway as thousands have lost access to electricity and water.
Local media report that the military is fighting armed men
who have been terrorizing Hama residents. Smoke could be seen rising above the city around the week and reports of deaths continued everyday.
In response to the ongoing crisis in Hama, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said on Tuesday of President Assad, “[he] must be aware that under international humanitarian law, this is accountable. I believe that he lost all sense of humanity
There have been reports of protests following tarawih
, or evening prayers, every night
this week. Protests have been reported in cities and towns across the country – indeed, far more than can be listed – with violence and deaths each day – including in the heart of the capital. Some 24 people died
amid unrest across the country on Monday alone – with fatalities reported in Damascus, Lattakia, Irbin, Homs, Hama and Al-Boukamal. Another 30 reportedly died in Hama – on Wednesday. Activists in the city maintain that an estimated 250 people have been killed in Hama since Sunday.
If the protests continue to expand and carry on throughout the week, it unclear that the Syrian army has the resources necessary to carry out such intensive campaigns. At present, there is much speculation that it is increasingly overstretched
Bodies in Orontes River
A horrific video surfaced on the internet on August 1 – and was played in constant rotation by local TV stations – showing a group of men, who by their accents are clearly Hamawis, unloading the bodies of murdered men, presumably government supporters, from the back of a truck and tossing them over a bridge and into the bloodied Orontes River. Warning: the video is highly graphic and contains inappropriate language
– it can be viewed here
. The video sparked outrage, as many used it to claim that Syrian revolutionaries are criminals as claimed by the authorities. It is impossible to ascertain the events that lead up to those captured in the video.
Targeted assassinations, forcible disappearances
The human rights group Avaaz, has also come forward with evidence that some 2,918 Syrians have been “forcibly disappeared” since the start of the uprising in March
. Those that have disappeared have been largely accused of being political dissidents involved in the revolution. At the same time, some 12,617 people are known to be in detention, all also also accused of anti-government activities, however, their family members were notified of their imprisonment.
One activist now exiled in Turkey, spoke to Avaaz on the motivations behind his support of the opposition and his perspective of who is taking to the streets, stating that “I participated in all the protests before I left and I saw all components of Syrian society, Christians, Muslims, Kurds uniting as one to demand their rights. The government and the army is sectarian, not us. They are killing and detaining in a very cruel way. People have kneeled to Assad for 42 years. They need to understand that Syria is not a farm that belongs to Assad and his family. It is a free Arab country and the people will take their rights.”
International Politics & Diplomacy
Diplomatic divide – responding to Syrian revolution
The complexity of the Syrian uprising and the difficulty of obtaining accurate information about the nature of the unfolding events and divergent associated strategic interests have, among much else, resulted in a diplomatic divide
over whether or not to express support for Syrian revolutionaries
. On the one hand, some foreign officials remain skeptical of both the motives of the Syrian opposition and the likely political outcome of the uprising – whether it be a new government or the continued rule of the current one. On the other hand, other foreign officials have expressed support for the Syrian opposition, regardless of underlying concerns about the instability and unknowns that would follow a change of leadership.
Equivocation on Syria issue
Democratic and Republican members of a US House Subcommittee on Foreign Affairs held a session on Wednesday July 27 calling into question the US’s arguably equivocal stance on the Syrian uprising. Members of the bipartisan committee agreed that the US has been hedging bets on whether or not President Assad will weather the revolt and have consequently failed to adopt a clear stance in support of the Syrian opposition
Some interpret the US’s equivocation, as a central catalyst of more anti-American sentiments in Syria. As James Dorsey argues in an article for Al-Arabiya
, “US Fence Straddling Fuels Anti-Americanism in Syria and Bahrain
,” Syrian “protesters charge that US and Western reluctance is what keeps Mr. Assad in power because he is under no international pressure to step down.” As Dorsey sees it, the US has “reached out” to members of Syrian opposition and offered “consultation” with the country’s activists thus playing a “supportive role in the background” or as American officials term it, “leadership from behind”.
Dorsey’s argument might perplex those who are familiar with the oft-repeated local sentiment, the ‘Syrian people will determine the fate of their country.’ Indeed, Dorsey’s article exemplifies a powerful component of American foreign policy thinking – namely, that the US is both capable of and indeed responsible for, helping to remedy the region’s woes.
Posner & Feltman – Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia testimony on Syria
In joint testimony, “Axis of Abuse: U.S. Human Rights Policy toward Iran and Syria: Part 1,” before the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, Michael H. Posner, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor and Jeffrey D. Feltman, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs made a number of significant comments on the Syria issue, which can be read in their entirety here
. Some key excerpts of the testimony were as follows:
“In…Syria, we have seen the regime play a cruel double game designed to divert attention away from people’s demands and justify the regime’s monopoly on power. Asad is exploiting fears of sectarianism and factionalism by surreptitiously fomenting violence of an intentionally sectarian nature, while at the same time cautioning Syrians not to rock his carefully guided boat. As a consequence, deadly violence has at times taken a purportedly sectarian shade. This has only left more blood on Asad’s hands.
“We view these incidents as further evidence that President Assad’s government continues to be the real source of instability within Syria. He has promised reforms but delivered no meaningful changes. He talks about dialogue, but continues to engage in violence that proves his rhetoric hollow. Assad has made clear that he is determined to maintain power regardless of the cost. And the human toll is mounting. …
“We continue to urge more nations to join our call, in bilateral and multilateral settings, to shine a spotlight on these countries’ [Iran and Syria] gross violations of human rights.
“Our efforts to support the Iranian and Syrian people as they seek to exercise their rights have been consistent and sustained. …we work with civil society organizations to support their efforts to defend human rights and to advocate for change. We help them expand political space and hold their government accountable. We provide training and tools to civil society activists in Iran and Syria, and throughout the world, to enable citizens to freely and safely exercise their freedoms of expression, association, and assembly on the Internet and via other communication technologies. In cases like Iran and Syria, where governments have good reason to fear the spotlight on their activities, access to technological tools allows the people to tell their story to the world. Despite both government’s ramped up activities to try to suppress information flows, the days are gone when governments could brutalize their people without the world knowing.”
While the Obama Administration’s policy toward Syria and decision to keep US Ambassador Ford in Damascus amid the crisis has been subject to heavy criticism, some endorse the Administration’s “creative diplomacy”, arguing that as the US has little pull in the Syrian government and no will or means to wage a military operation in response to the violence, it is better off to place itself on the “right side of Syria’s history
” by using Ambassador Ford’s presence in Damascus to show its support for Syrian revolutionaries. The Editorial Board of Bloomberg News
, publicly adopted this stance on July 27.
Meeting: President Obama & Ambassador Ford
Clinton: meeting with Syrian activists
On Tuesday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held a meeting at the State Department with figures from the Syrian-American community to discuss the “urgent situation
” in Syria. No further information was released to the press.
European Union – further sanctions
On August 2, the European Union added five names to its last of Syrian officials placed under sanctions. Syrian Defense Minister Ali Habib is among those on the new list.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton also warned whist announcing the latest sanctions that in the future, the EU might impose further sanctions “should the Syrian leadership persist in its current path”. For more information on the sanctions already imposed against Syrian officials, including US sanctions, see here
France – no military action
On Tuesday August 2 at a press briefing, Christine Fages, the deputy spokeswoman of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs said of the situation in Syria, “The situation in Libya and Syria are not similar. No option of a military nature is considered
.” Fages went on to state that, “The violence this weekend marked a new and increasingly worsening unacceptable” situation for the Syrian people.
Italy – ambassador recalled
On Tuesday in another significant diplomatic blow to the Syrian government, Italy recalled its Ambassador to Syria, due to the “horrible repression
” of Syrian civilians. The Italian government also proposed that “all ambassadors from countries within the European Union be recalled”.
The latter comment, however, is unlikely to be acted upon anytime soon. In response to Italy’s move, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said that the EU’s ambassador to Syria, Greek-born Vassilis Bontosoglou, “will remain in Damascus to observe what’s happening on the ground”.
Turkey – intensifies condemnation
On Monday, Turkey intensified its condemnation of the Syrian government’s management of the uprising, as a senior Turkish official indicated that sanctions were now “on the table”. Sunday’s attack “raised serious, very serious questions about the intentions of the Syrian regime. We are coming to a point where their words no longer mean anything. They have shown they are not interested in a peaceful resolution,” the official continued.
Turkey is among Syria’s key trading partners. According to Turkey’s Foreign Economic Relations Board, the country’s trade with Syria tripled between 2006 and 2010 to USD 2.4 billion. Though the Syrian uprising has wreaked havoc on the Syrian economy, according to data released on August 1 from the Turkish Exporters’ Assembly, trade between the two countries continues to grow. Indeed, Turkish exports to Syria in July, increased 13% to USD 191.6 million compared to last year, and in the first six months of this year, Turkish exports exceeded USD 1 billion – a small increase from last year.
There are some reports
, however, that suggest that localized cross-border commerce between the two countries, has been hit hard.
Turkey has thus far maintained dialogue with the Syrian government and avoided measures beyond tough words. Talk of sanctions marks a serious shift in its stance as the imposition of sanctions would undoubtedly have a profound effect on the Syrian economy. Turkey has ruled out the possibility of military intervention in Syria.
United Nations – presidential statement, related diplomacy
On Monday August 1, the United Nations Security Council met in New York
to formally draft a statement or resolution in response to the crisis in Syria. The Syrian government’s use of extreme violence against civilian populaces over the weekend, added to a sense of urgency with regard to reaching a consensus on the issue.
In the lead-up to the meeting, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said the meeting was slated to entail “difficult work” but that he wanted to “see a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution to condemn this violence [in Syria], to call for the release of political prisoners and to call for legitimate grievances to be responded to.”
Hague went on to state that, “We want to see stronger international pressure all round,” and that, “There is no prospect of a legal, morally sanctioned military intervention; therefore we have to concentrate on other ways of influencing the Assad regime and trying to help the situation in Syria. It is a very frustrating situation. The levers that we have in this situation are relatively limited but we should be frank in admitting that and then working with the ones that we have.”
On Tuesday, international media reported that negotiations over a UN resolution on the Syria case were ongoing, with the possibility that the UNSC would issue a presidential statement in place of an official resolution; a presidential statement carries less weight than a resolution and therefore could open the way for its approval by Russia, China, South Africa, India and Brazil – all of which had blocked earlier efforts to pass a resolution.
Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin made a public statement with regard to the possibility of the UNSC issuing a presidential statement, noting that it would be “satisfactory” as a resolution would be “somewhat excessive” due to the fact that the Council is “still under the shadow of events in Libya
” – which responded to the Libyan crisis “frivolously”.
Indian Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri likewise informed reporters that following Tuesday’s meetings, he sensed “a certain convergence of thinking” as participants felt compelled to respond in “days rather than weeks.”
The following day, after months of diplomatic wrangling, the UN Security Council succeeded in delivering a resolution on the Syria case through a Presidential Statement. The text of the resolution
is as follows:
“The Security Council expresses its grave concern at the deteriorating situation in Syria, and expresses profound regret at the death of many hundreds of people.
“The Security Council condemns the widespread violations of human rights and the use of force against civilians by the Syrian authorities.
“The Security Council calls for an immediate end to all violence and urges all sides to act with utmost restraint, and to refrain from reprisals, including attacks against state institutions.
“The Security Council calls on the Syrian authorities to fully respect human rights and to comply with their obligations under applicable international law. Those responsible for the violence should be held accountable.
“The Security Council notes the announced commitments by the Syrian authorities to reform, and regrets the lack of progress in implementation, and calls upon the Syrian Government to implement its commitments.
“The Security Council reaffirms its strong commitment to the sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of Syria. It stresses that the only solution to the current crisis in Syria is through an inclusive and Syrian-led political process, with the aim of effectively addressing the legitimate aspirations and concerns of the population which will allow the full exercise of fundamental freedoms for its entire population, including that of expression and peaceful assembly.
“The Security Council calls on the Syrian authorities to alleviate the humanitarian situation in crisis areas by ceasing the use of force against affected towns, to allow expeditious and unhindered access for international humanitarian agencies and workers, and cooperate fully with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
“The Security Council requests the Secretary-General to update the Security Council on the situation in Syria within 7 days.”
South Africa, Brazil and India – envoys to Damascus
Russia – “sad fate” of Assad
On August 4, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev made a statement urging President Assad to implement reforms. As Medvedev put it, “He [Assad] needs to urgently carry out reforms, reconcile with the opposition, restore peace and set up a modern state.” Medvedev continued, “If he fails to do this, he will face a sad fate.
” Medvedev’s statements are quite significant given Russia obstinate resistance of any meddling in Syrian affairs – or use of associated harsh language.
Israel – “Assad must go”
Peres’s statement came only a few days after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu adopted a more cautious line during an interview on Al-Arabiya TV, noting that young Syrians deserved a better future and that only the Syrian people can decide what that will be.
Israel has struggled to respond to the revolutions that have swept across the Arab world. Only quite recently, have Israeli officials begun to address the regional uprisings in front of Arabic language media.
Al-Qaeda – support for Syrian opposition
Ayman al-Zawahiri, the new leader of Al-Qaeda, delivered a video statement on July 27 expressing support for and solidarity with the Syrian protest movement
. In his video speech, Zawahiri slammed President al-Assad for being both corrupt and “America’s partner in the war on Islam”. Zawahiri also criticized President Assad for his “abandonment” of the Golan Heights.
“The Syrian People Will Determine the Fate of Syria: An Interview with Burhan Ghalioun
” – Jadaliyya/Qantara
– An informative interview with Burhan Ghalioun, director of the Centre d’Etudes sur l’Orient Contemporain (Ceoc) in Paris, professor of political sociology at the Université de Paris III (Sorbonne Nouvelle) and member of the opposition. Ghalioun addresses the current government’s options – genuine dialogue vs. continued crackdowns against the opposition; the interests represented by the “silent segment’ of the Syrian population and what might break their silence; the issue of sectarian conflict; members of the opposition in and outside of the country and their strengths and pitfalls; the ‘three no’s’ they currently embrace (no military intervention, no sectarian conflict and no use of arms); what the opposition is seeking with regard to international players, and; the role of regional powers including Iran, Turkey Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
“To Topple Assad, It Takes a Minority
” – The New York Times
– Bassma Kodman, the executive director of the Arab Reform Initiative, argues that the success of the Syrian revolt depends on the ability of those in the opposition to demonstrate to the country’s Alawite minority, which comprises between 10 and 12 percent of the population, that they can “safely turn against the Assad regime”. The Alawites have historically faced severe persecution, thus leaving many who would otherwise come forward in support of the revolution, fearful of being persecuted in the wake of the current government’s collapse. According to Kodman, the “onus falls on the Sunni majority to reassure Alawites and other minorities like Christians, Druse and Shiites…that they will not be subjected to acts of vengeance. These Sunni religious and political leaders can save Syria from its sectarian demons.”
“The “State of Emergency” is Not a Law . . . It is a Structure and a Regime
” – Jadaliyya/Dar al-Hayat
– Badrakhan Ali offers up analysis of the realities of the Emergency Law – its origins, broader implications for Syrian society, and the resulting “entrenched pattern of authoritarian rule in Damascus”. According to Badrakhan, the Emergency Law has shaped the very foundation of the country’s current system of governance: “In Syria …it is not possible to attribute all political crimes and breaches of rights that have occurred to the state of emergency. It is not possible, for example, to explain the absence of free elections during the past decades and at every level…the presence of more than ten security apparatuses that are not subject to accountability, criticism, and counsel…and that there are parties that “rule” Syria without a parties law…and the eighth article of the constitution, which stipulates that “the Baath Party leads the country and the society”…and the disappearance of peaceful activists for ten years or more without trial…The constitution itself is a state of emergency and was written according to the whims of the rulers, but the truth is that even this constitution itself, with all of its defects, is absent.”
“Can Non-violent Struggle Bring Down Syria’s Assad?
” – Reuters
– Ausama Monajed, a key leader of Syria’s opposition abroad, is a driving force behind efforts to develop structured non-violent opposition in Syria. This article by Hugo Dixon, explores the possibilities of such an approach one efforts to undermine the current government’s “pillars of support”. The article also puts forth strategies for those fearful of taking to the streets – including releasing “freedom balloons” at a designated time in a specific city and drafting “lists of shame” of businesses and high profile figures close to the current government who could be boycotted.
“Getting Serious in Syria
” – The American Interest
– Setting aside the policy advise at the end, which some will find both presumptuous and worrisome, authors Michael S. Doran and Salman Shaikh put forth a notably comprehensive assessment of the events that have transpired thus far in Syria. The article covers the familial relations within the current Syrian government; the alliance between Alawi political forces – the so-called ‘deep state’ – and Sunni businessmen; dynamics and loyalties within the military; the government’s exploitation of sectarian fears; insider/outsider opposition tensions; and the provincial autonomy slowly creepy across the country as more cities and villages become the sites of nearly unquenchable mass unrest.
“Why Damascus, Aleppo are Silent for Now
” – Gulf News
– Sami Moubayed, editor-in-chief of a local publication, Forward Magazine
, argues that while Aleppo and Damascus have remained comparatively silent since the uprising began in March, their silence will be short-lived. Moubayed cites three reasons for this: 1) rampant and growing unemployment which will draw more youths out onto the streets, 2) a lack of widely accepted community leaders in both cities to help quell tensions, and 3) demographics – Damascus in particular, is full of internal migrants and according to Moubayed, they will be among the first to take to the streets en masse as they will not have the same business and political loyalties as native Damascenes.
“Arab Spring: R.I.P.?
” – Huffington Post
– A gloomy but interesting read by Josef Olmert, evaluating the differences between the revolutions in Egypt and Syria and the reasons why the author maintains that Syria is on course for more violence along sectarian lines.
“Underground In Beirut: A Syrian Activist Continues the Fight from Lebanon
” – The Boston Review
– An account of opposition member Rami Nakhle’s flight from Syria. A very well-written and lengthy account of the revelations that inspired Nakhle’s political beliefs – revelations that were stretched out over the last 11 years and fueled by information discovered on the internet. The article also explores the complexity of being a Syrian dissident exiled in Lebanon – still well within reach of the Syrian government and those who support it.
“Syrian Uprising Expands Despite Absence Of Leaders
” – National Public Radio
– While the Syrian opposition is rapidly growing, it has yet to put forth leaders. According to this report by Deborah Amos, this is in part because young Syrians have “grown up under an authoritarian system” and now distrust “any kind of leadership”. While this has indeed helped the opposition in some respects, it now beginning to hinder its ability to launch a plan for the country’s future.
“Young Iraqi Refugees Dream of Seattle, Wait in Limbo in Syria
” – The Seattle Times
– Sarah Stuteville explores the lives of two Iraqi refugees living in Damascus and the manner in which the recent unrest in Syria has impacted their lives. At present, some 151,000 Iraqi refugees are registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees office in Damascus. Many, having already fled war once in Iraq, now live in fear of the onset of conflict in Syria.
Government to buy 100,000 metric tons of soft wheat
Royal Dutch Shell – operations will continue
Royal Dutch Shell Plc (RDSA), intends to maintain its production
in Syria in compliance with the sanctions recently imposed against the Syrian government for its crackdown against Syrian civilians. The oil company is Europe’s largest. According to CEO Peter Voser, operations remain unaffected by the Syrian uprising.
August 17, 2011 – Syria News Blog: A Roundup of International Reportage/in Uncategorized /by admin
Syria’s Protest Movement
As international rhetoric in condemnation of the violence in Syria roars, the Syrian government continues in its unflinching suppression of the country’s deepening unrest. The Turkish ultimatum issued last week – end the violence and implement reforms within two weeks or expect an intensification of Turkish interference – appears to have fallen on deaf ears. On Saturday, the Syrian military initiated a new assault on the coastal city of Lattakia, leading to more deaths, detainments and international condemnations. Tunisia has withdrawn its ambassador to Damascus, Switzerland has imposed more sanctions against Syrian officials, and Jordanian officials have urged for an end to the violence. Now deep into the summer, the deadlock between the government and the opposition continues with no signs of abatement in the near or distant future.
August 13, 2011 – Syria News Blog: A Roundup of International Reportage/in Uncategorized /by admin
Syria’s Protest Movement
Twenty-two consecutive Friday’s into the Syrian revolt, Damascus finds itself increasingly encircled by international condemnation. Saudia Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar all withdrew their ambassadors from Damascus early last week, following a speech by Saudi King Abdullah urging an end to the violence and the implementation of real reform, and weekend statements from both the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council denouncing the country-wide violence. Turkish Foreign Minister Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu met with President Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday to demand the cessation of violence within two weeks, while the US imposed further economic sanctions against the country’s financial system. At the same time, another estimated 150 civilians were killed in crackdowns across the country between August 7 and 12.
August 4, 2011 – Syria News Blog: A Roundup of International Reportage/in Uncategorized /by admin
Syria’s Protest Movement
July 28, 2011 – Syria in the News: A Roundup of International Reportage/in Uncategorized /by admin
Syria’s Protest Movement
July 21, 2011 – Syria in the News: A Roundup of International Reportage/in Uncategorized /by admin
Syria’s Protest Movement
July 15, 2011 – Syria in the News: A Roundup of International Reportage/in Uncategorized /by admin
Syria’s Protest Movement
July 6, 2011 – Syria in the News: A Roundup of International Reportage/in Uncategorized /by admin
Syria’s Protest Movement
After 300,000 protestors took to the streets of Hama in reportedly peaceful protest on Friday July 1, and thousands of others demonstrated in towns across the country, it seems the Syrian protest movement is now gaining critical mass. Nevertheless, while members of the opposition grow increasingly organized, the chasm between older dissidents and young protestors widens. The date set by President al-Assad for the start of the National Dialogue – July 10 – is rapidly approaching, yet many members of the opposition refuse to participate. The stalemate between the government and the protestors drags on, with the economy in tatters and growing concern that anticipated unrest during the upcoming month of Ramadan will bring the country to its knees.
June 29, 2011 – Syria in the News: A Roundup of International Reportage/in Uncategorized /by admin
Syria’s Protest Movement
In a development hailed as a sign of change in Syria by some, and deemed a mere PR exercise of the Syrian government by others, Syrian opposition met for the first time in public in Damascus on Monday June 27. The same day, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad set July 10, 2011 as the start date for national dialogue, stating that participation would be open to all “national and political figures”. Simultaneously, however, violence continued across the country. Another 15 people died in unrest on June 24 as thousands continued to flow across the border into Turkey and Lebanon. Meanwhile, the diplomatic spotlight remains firmly on Turkey, with many continuing to view its response to the turmoil in Syria, as the ultimate indicator of its future role in the region.
June 22, 2011 – Syria in the News: A Roundup of International Reportage/in Uncategorized /by admin
Syria’s Protest Movement
June 16, 2011 – Syria in the News: A Roundup of International Reportage/in Uncategorized /by admin
Syria’s Protest Movement
June 8, 2011 – Syria in the News: A Roundup of International Reportage/in Uncategorized /by admin
Syria’s Protest Movement
June 1, 2011 – Syria in the News: A Roundup of International Reportage/in Uncategorized /by admin
Syria’s Protest Movement
May 25, 2011 – Syria in the News: A Roundup of International Reportage/in Uncategorized /by admin
Syria’s Protest Movement
May 18, 2011 – Syria in the News: A Roundup of International Reportage/in Uncategorized /by admin
Syria’s Protest Movement
Syrian Women at the Forefront/in Uncategorized /by admin
One of the most interesting features of the Syrian protest movement is the prominent role women have been taking in it.
May 11, 2011 – Syria in the News: A Roundup of International Reportage/in Uncategorized /by admin
Syria’s Protest Movement
“The Revolution Will Be YouTubed: Syria’s Video Rebels” in Time – a report on the efforts of Syrian activists to film the unrest in the country.
“Truth and Reconciliation? It Won’t Happen in Syria” in The Independent – a bleak assessment of Syria’s prospects for spiraling into civil war.
“Syria Arrests Spurs Exiles to Act” in The Wall Street Journal – an article covering the efforts of exiled Syrian dissidents to plan an organizational meeting in Cairo later in May.
May 4, 2011 – Syria in The News: A Roundup of International Reportage/in Uncategorized /by admin
Syria’s Protest Movement
On Wednesday April 27, additional troops and tanks were deployed to the southern city of Daraa. The same day, 233 members of the Baath Party resigned from their positions in protest against the use of violence against civilians in Daraa. As those who resigned were all relatively low-ranking members and the Baath Party membership is thought to total an estimated 2 million, their move was more symbolic than influential.
April 27, 2011 – Syria in the News: A Roundup of International Reportage/in Uncategorized /by admin
Syria’s Protest Movement
Politics & Diplomacy
Economic Development & Agriculture
April 20, 2011 – Syria in the News: A Roundup of International Reportage/in Uncategorized /by admin
Syria’s Protest Movement
In the last eight days, the security environment in Syria has taken a significant turn for the worse. After-prayers protests last Friday were reported by some to have reached their largest numbers since the inception of unrest in Syria on March 15. Though there were few reports of violence on Friday, there were grave reports of violence Sunday through Tuesday – irregardless of President Bashar al-Assad’s conciliatory address to the cabinet on Saturday April 16.
The President has made gestures in the way of reform, however, it remains to be seen if both proposed reforms and those that have already been implemented, will bring about changes compelling enough to satisfy the country’s growing protest movement.
On Wednesday April 13, a three-page document dated March 23, 2011 reportedly issued by a Syrian intelligence agency, was leaked to the international media. The document detailed the government’s alleged strategy for dealing with the protest movement and given its highly grim nature, it was the subject of considerable international attention. However, no source has been able to verify its authenticity. For more details, see here.
That day, the protest movement reached a critical turning point as hundreds of women from the town of Bayda – perhaps even thousands – took over a highway not far from the neighboring city of Baniyas, to protest against the mass arrests of men from their town – 350 of whom were detained on Tuesday. The scene was utterly unprecedented in Syria. The protest movement also reached Aleppo that day – another first.
On Thursday, state media announced that all those detained since March 15, save for those guilty of committing “criminal acts”, will be released from prison. Newly appointed Syrian Prime Minister Adel Safar also announced the members of the new government that day, which saw the loss of Prime Minister for Economic Affairs, Abdullah al-Dardari. This was a major blow to those encouraged by Syria’s recent economic reforms. Indeed, Dardari’s name had become synonymous with economic reform, which according to his plans, included efforts to eliminate key subsidies. However unfortunate, it is unsurprising that he was removed from his position – his path of reform, was hard for many to swallow. For The Syria Report’s detailed analysis of all recent changes in the government see here, here and here.
Thursday’s announcements of reform were interpreted by many, as an effort to appease protestors in advance of Friday’s planned demonstrations. However, the country nevertheless erupted in protests again on Friday – with a number of reports suggesting that they were the largest yet. In Douma, a Damascus suburb, protestors apparently held up yellow cards – a warning for the government inspired by football. Some international sources report that 100,000 demonstrated in the neighborhoods surrounding Damascus only to be dispersed by security forces as they approached the capital’s Abbassiyen Square, while another estimated 20,000 took to the streets in Daraa, where security forces apparently were ordered not to intervene.
However, a number of other reputable sources put the numbers of protestors out across the country at significantly lower numbers – figures which are likely more accurate. According to those sources, 3,000 people marched in Daraa; 5,000 in Qamishli in the northeast; 4,500 in Raas al-Ayn, Amuda and Derbassiye – three Kurdish neighborhoods near Qamishli; 1,000 in Lattakia; 4,000 in Homs; 50 in Barz – an area near Damascus, and; 2,000 in Jobar just outside of Damascus. The day was largely free from violence, however, state media reported that a policeman was killed by protestors in Homs.
Signs of hope following the President’s address to his newly sworn-in cabinet on Saturday, were abruptly stifled as protestors took to the streets around the country in the days after his speech – a full transcript of which, can be found here. More conciliatory than his March 30 speech, the President announced that the 1963 emergency law would be lifted in the coming week, declared the hundreds who have died here during recent unrest martyrs, and noted that corruption and unemployment are among the country’s biggest issues going forward.
Sunday was Independence Day, a national holiday that commemorates the departure of French forces from Syria 65 years ago, and protestors took to the streets in droves. Homs, Syria’s third largest city, was the scene of serious violence. According to international media, about 40 protestors gathered outside of the city’s Bab al-Sibaa mosque to call for “freedom” only to be surrounded by seven cars full of men dressed in street clothes. The men open fired on the protestors, killing between 12 and 25. The town of Talbisa, near to Homs, also saw the deaths of five protestors that day and according to local news, 11 policemen and members of security forces were injured.
The same sources, however, attribute the violence to “a group of armed criminals”. The sources also report that armed groups also began “terrorizing innocent civilians” and “cutting off public roads” near the town. A military unit was apparently deployed to the scene and more violence ensued, resulting in the killing of “three members of the armed groups”, the wounding of another 15, and the injuring of five army personnel. International media attributes all such violence to the efforts of security forces to quell demonstrations.
International media report that the unrest in Homs was sparked by the arresting of Sheikh Baddar Abu Moussa on Friday while he participated in demonstrations in Homs. Sheikh Abu Moussa was killed while in police custody, with most sources reporting torture as the cause.
On Monday, an estimated 5,000 took over Al-Saa Square in Homs, following mass funerals for the people killed the day before. The demonstrators allegedly set up checkpoints around the area in an effort to ensure that those entering were unarmed. International media reports that the demonstrators referred to the area “Tahrir Square” throughout the day – a reference to the square in Cairo that became the home of the protest movement that eventually ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Security forces used loudspeakers to order the protestors to leave – eventually setting a curfew of 2:30am. However, according to some sources, gunfire could be heard at the square beginning at 2:15am. International media estimate that between five and 17 people were killed.
This came the same day that the Ministry of Interior released a statement attributing violence in recent days to a “mutiny led by Salafi armed groups” aiming to “create chaos and terrify the Syrian people, exploiting the reform and freedom process launched within a comprehensive program according to specific timetables announced” by President Assad.
On Tuesday, protestors in Homs initiated a three-day strike, promising to continue with their demonstrations in Al-Saa Square. International reports suggest that Homs is in a state of disarray with nearly all of its businesses closed and security forces blocking off many roads. The city’s protestors are planning for huge demonstrations this coming Friday – terming the day “Great Day of Protests.” The city of Homs, with a population of about 800,000, is critically important to the country’s industrial sector and there is little doubt that the worsening of unrest there, will have a strongly negative impact on the country’s economy.
In another show of the increasing brazenness of Syrian protestors, a group of Damascus University students attempted to stage a protest in front of the university’s medical school on Tuesday. Though they were quickly dispersed by security, their efforts are indicative of changing attitudes – tight security in Damascus has thus far served as an effective deterrent and suppressant of protests in the city.
The government also came forward with a number of key reforms on April 19, including that it passed a bill to officially end the state of emergency, that the Higher State Security Court – which is responsible for the trials of political prisoners, has been abolished, and that a new law allowing for peaceful demonstrations has been drafted. In its announcement, the government explained that “(t)his package of strategic bills is part of the political reform program that aims at bolstering democracy, expanding citizens’ participation, strengthening national unity, guaranteeing the safety of country and citizens, and confronting various challenges.”
Nevertheless, it seems the Syrian protest movement has gained sufficient momentum to be unappeased by such reforms. Protestors in Homs, for example, are rumored to have vowed not to leave Al-Saa Square, until the entire regime is overthrown. This at least, is how the international media reports it.
“Twisting Assad’s Arm” in Foreign Policy – Andrew Tabler, a journalist posted for a number of years in Syria, critiques the US approach to diplomacy with Syria.
“The Continuing Protests in Arab Countries – The Case of Syria” in the Huffington Post – a detailed assessment of the particularities of Syria’s protest movement couched in related history of the region.
“Who Are the Shabbiha?” in The Weekly Standard – a discussion of the group’s alleged origins, membership, activities and interests. (For more related takes on the group and its rumored activities, see here.)
Two articles on the cyber component of the unrest here:
“Syria’s Cyber Revolution” in GlobalPost and “Is the Syrian Government Responsible for Spam Polluting #Syria on Twitter?” in Radio Free Europe: Radio Liberty.
“Syria’s Assad “Faces Strong Challenge Without Reform” in Reuters – Mariam Karouny’s analysis of the demands of members of Syria’s opposition groups.
“Syria Crisis Could Change Face of Middle East” in the BBC – an assessment of how unrest in Syria could and likely will destabilize the entire region.
“Syria on the Boil” in Arab News – an editorial on why the lifting of the emergency law and other such reforms will not bring an end to the unrest.
Now, for the remainder of the weekly international news roundup.
Politics & Diplomacy
Last week, US State Department spokesman Mark Toner, announced that the US government has “credible information that Iran is assisting Syria” in managing the country’s unrest. Toner’s allegations rapidly spread across international media, causing debates and considerable anger. According to Toner, the US government believes that Iran is channeling riot control gear into Syria and providing it with technical advice on related matters. The Syrian government adamantly denies all such allegations.
A number of international analysts expressed concern that Iranian meddling in Syrian affairs could spark disastrous results. For many, Iran’s relative silence on the unrest in Syria and vocal support for it in other Arab states is quite telling. Iran has gained key economic and political strategic ground as a result of the region’s turmoil – but a worsening of unrest in Syria would take a serious toll on its interests and security.
Only a few days before Toner’s statement, Hilary Clinton made a statement on the situation in Syria for a CNN report, saying that “(i)t is time for the Syrian government to stop repressing their citizens and start responding to their aspirations.”
On April 15, during a meeting in Moscow, a number of Russian politicians affirmed their support for the Syrian government.
The same day, a Lebanese daily reported that Wikileaks cables indicate that Saad Hariri, Lebanon’s outgoing premier, had aimed to politically isolate Syria and oust its current leadership. The day before, Syrian State TV ran a broadcast featuring an interview with an alleged terrorist claiming to have been paid and armed by Lebanese Future movement MP, Jamal al-Jarrah to incite unrest in Syria and carry out violent attacks against the government.
On Friday, the Syrian Ambassador to Lebanon, Ali Abdulkarim, stated while attending a press conference that he was sure that the “majority of Lebanese people are keen on Syria’s independence…and that they realize that any harm that becomes Syria will affect Lebanon.”
On Sunday and Monday and Tuesday, a number of Lebanese officials came forward with statements in support of the Syrian government. The MP of Lebanon’s Change and Reform Bloc, Michel Aoun, also reiterated his country’s commitment to the Taif Agreement, which essentially states that Lebanon cannot serve as a base or launching point for attacks against Syria.
The Washington Post published an article on Sunday which revealed that the US State Department has been secretly financing Syrian opposition groups since 2006. The initiative, started by former US President Bush, has been continued by the Obama Administration. Though the funding, totaling USD 6m is small, its political cost to the US government now that its efforts have been made public, is enormous. The news plays well for the Syrian government, which has maintained throughout the unrest, that the country’s recent turmoil is the result of foreign meddlers – including the US goverment.
On Monday, Hezbollah MP Nawwaf Moussawi made a statement in support of President Assad and the Syrian government, noting that Lebanon’s stability and security hinges on that of its neighbor and blaming unrest in Syria on “the American-Zionist-Western plot to undermine its national, pan-Arab and resistance role.”
That day, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem held a meeting with a number of Arab and foreign ambassadors in Damascus to discuss the unrest in Syria and President Assad’s speech over the weekend. Mr. Moallem stated that, “(w)e believe that those who want reform express their opinion peacefully from the basis that this reform is a national necessity… those who want reform do not use violence”.
On Tuesday, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said that he welcomed the Syrian government’s decision to lift the state of emergency, but that there was “still much more to do“.
At the same time, EU foreign policy chief, Baroness Catherine Ashton, told Al Jazeera that EU member states are “very worried” about the violence in Syria and continued on to state, “(t)here has to be an end to violence. The first thing is we’ve got to stop the violence. The government has got to take its responsibilities seriously.”
Meanwhile, Syrian communities in Austria, Kuwait, Iran, and Poland held rallies in support of the Syrian government around the week.
On Friday April 15, between 400 and 500 trucks were held at the border crossing between Syria and Lebanon for inspection by Syrian authorities. The inspections were the result of increasing concerns about Syria’s security situation and had been put in place three days earlier. The border where the trucks were stopped, Abboudiyeh crossing, leads directly to Homs.
Syrian authorities stopped a refrigerated truck at the al-Tanf border crossing with Iraq on Monday April 18. The driver, an Iraqi, was allegedly attempting to smuggle a massive load of weapons, including machine guns and sniper rifles into Syria.
Economics & Agriculture
It is telling that in recent weeks, news related to Syria’s economic development and trade agreements has plummeted.
This week in Aleppo, scientists are holding an international conference aimed at building up a scientific ‘counteroffensive’ against a fungus called Yellow Rust, that is systematically destroying wheat crops in Syria as well as in a number of countries around the world. The International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas is based in Aleppo.
Last week, the Syrian government announced that it will allow three government-owned lenders – Popular Credit Bank, Savings Bank and Industrial Bank – to sell foreign currencies to their customers.
April 13, 2011 – Syria in the News: A Roundup of International Reportage/in Uncategorized /by admin
Syria’s Protest Movement
On Wednesday, it lifted a ban imposed less than a year ago on niqab-wearing teachers. The niqab was controversially banned in the classroom last summer under the premise that displays of religious conservatism ran counter to government efforts to protect secularism in Syria. Though it affected a small number of people (estimated at around 1,200), it was a move that angered many – so much so, that recent demonstrations in Baniyas specifically called for a lifting of the ban. For more information on the original decision to ban the niqab, see here and here.