The Syrian Revolution Becomes Internationalized
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The crisis in Syria was officially internationalized when members of the Arab League’s observer force arrived in Syria last Thursday. The following day, two car bombs exploded in front of state security offices in Kfar Sousa, Damascus, killing 44 and injuring another 100. The issue of who was responsible for the attack remains in dispute. Three days later, a second group of Arab League monitors arrived in Syria as violence in the central city of Homs intensified. Charged with monitoring the Syrian government’s implementation of the Arab League’s peace plan, the monitors have thus far been met with mixed emotions and varying levels of violence and disorder.
The Syrian Revolution
Twin bombings in Damascus
On Friday, December 23 two suicide car bombs explodes in front of security facilities in Kfar Sousa, Damascus. The bombs killed 44 people and injured an estimated 100 others. The bombs were massive, causing severe damage to surrounding buildings, and marking a serious turn of events; central Damascus had not yet been the scene of any large-scale violence.
Within 40 minutes of the explosions, state-run media ran reports attributing the events to Al-Qaeda. The reports featured extremely graphic pictures of the dead and injured. Later that day, the government issued another report adding that the attack came “in the service of the Zio-American project”.
The government’s findings came surprisingly fast, leaving many suspicious of its characterization of the events. Some members of the opposition blame the bombings on the government, noting that they occurred the day after the arrival of the first round of Arab League observers. That terrorists could pull off such a serious attack in the midst of the security forces’ offices in the capital, would speak to the vulnerability of the government.
On Tuesday, December 27, SANA released the names of those killed in the explosion. Nearly a week later, no further light has been shed on the event and speculation continues to run rampant. To read various local and international accounts of the bombings, see the following:
“Two Terrorist Attacks Target State Security Directorate and a Security Branch in Damascus City” – SANA
“Syria: Bloodshed in Damascus” – The Guardian
“Analysis: Was Syrian Government Behind Attacks?” – The Telegraph
“Twin Bombs Rock Syrian Capital” – Al-Akhbar
“The Regime Bears Direct Responsibility for Today’s Criminal Explosions in Damascus” – The Syrian National Council
“Now The Bombs” – Qunfuz (blog)
“Of Bombs and Fake Web Sites” – Walls (blog)
“Suicide Bombing Changes Nature of the Syrian Revolution” – Syria Comment
“Abdullah Azzam: The Voice of Al-Qaeda in Syria” – Al-Akhbar
Christmas celebrations cancelled
While the Christian quarters of the Old City in Damascus are normally full of Christmas decorations and cheer in December, all such celebrations were cancelled this year. Indeed, Christmas decorations are normally seen all over Damascus during the holiday’s season. This year, the only area of the capital featuring the usual holiday displays was in the upscale area surrounding the Four Seasons.
Arrival of Arab League monitors, continued protests, violence
On Monday, another group of Arab League monitors arrived in the country, headed by Sudanese General Mohamed Ahmad Mustafa al-Dabi. The mission of the monitors is to ensure that Syrian security and military forces are indeed complying with Syria’s agreement to remove troops and tanks from urban areas, as well as to release all those individuals detained since the start of the revolution. The observers come from Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia, among other countries.
That the monitors are lead by Dabi has sparked considerable controversy as Dabi, 63, is thought to have turned a blind eye to massive human rights crimes and atrocities in his native country, Sudan. Indeed, the League’s decision to appoint him does appear to fall out of line with the stated aims of the observer force. Dabi was the former head of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s intelligence unit. In March 2009, the International Criminal Court issue a warrant for Bashir’s arrest on charges of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide as a consequence of his role in the conflict in Darfur.
On Tuesday, December 27 Syrian state media reported that a section of a gas pipeline outside the city of Homs had been blown up during a terrorist attack. The explosion caused a gas leak of 150,000 cubic meters. The same pipeline had been previously targeted earlier in December. The attack was the fifth of its kind on the country’s energy infrastructure since March of this year.
The same day, international media reported that thousands of protestors had gathered in Homs as the Arab League monitors arrived in the city. The monitors met with the governor of Homs as well as a number of the city’s opposition figures. Activists expressed concern about their ability of the monitors to carry out their work effectively, as the outbreak of gunfire prevented them from visiting a number of important areas in the city were detainees are thought to be hidden. Monitors are also said to have not gone far enough into the worst hit areas of the city for the same reasons.
Just the day before, Syrian activists reported that an estimated 30 people were killed as tanks reportedly shelled a number of districts in Homs, including Bab Amr where 18 people were reportedly killed. Many of the same tanks began to pull out of the city just hours before the monitors arrived on Tuesday. The same activists also report that at least 100 people had been killed in Homs in the preceding four days.
A number of neighborhoods in Homs have seen a considerable escalation of violence in recent days, with government forces clashing with army defectors and other armed elements of the opposition. Some reports also suggest that the violence is increasingly sectarian in nature. The violence has made it exceptionally difficult, and in some cases impossible, for residents of the city to obtain basic food supplies.
On Wednesday, Gen. Dabi raised more eyebrows when he said the following during a phone call with Reuters of the experience of the observer forces in Homs: “Some places looked a bit of a mess but there was nothing frightening… The situation seemed reassuring so far … Yesterday was quiet and there were no clashes. We did not see tanks but we did see some armoured vehicles. But remember this was only the first day and it will need investigation. We have 20 people who will be there for a long time.”
Dabi’s remarks came as a number of videos showing the League’s monitoring force encountering live gunfire and the bodies of the dead, including that of a five-year-old boy, were posted across the internet. For examples of such footage, click here and here. Additionally, this site contains a collection of hundreds of related videos.
The same day, activists reported that an estimated seven people were killed when security forces reportedly used live ammunition and tear gas to disperse protestors in Hama.
Reports from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also emerged on Wednesday indicating that four Syrian soldiers had been killed and another 12 injured, when they came under attack by military defectors in the town of Dael in Daraa province.
The government also announced on Wednesday that it had released 755 people who had been arrested and detained during the course of the last nine months. The release of such prisoners is a condition of Syria’s peace agreement with the Arab League, however, a number of rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, maintain that the government is merely moving prisoners to hidden detention facilities. The number of individuals detained since the start of the revolution is thought by many to be upwards of 20,000.
Today, Arab League monitors travelled to the Damascus suburb of Douma. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, shooting broke out as they arrived at Douma’s city hall.
The monitors were also scheduled to visit a number of other areas today including Hama, Idlib, and Daraa.
Syrian activists charge that over 70 people have died during crackdowns and clashes since the latest round of monitors arrived in Syria only four days ago.
Rights group Avaaz releases new estimation of death toll
The international rights group Avaaz released the following statistics on deaths and numbers of individuals tortured since the start of the revolution. It should be noted that Avaaz’s statistics are higher than those of other international rights groups and monitoring agencies. Avaaz charges that it verifies each reported death with a medical report, a mosque leader, and a family member.
6,237 total death toll (including civilians and government forces)
617 deaths under torture, including 39 children
917 deaths among government forces
473 women killed
403 children killed
69,000 detained – 37,000 of whom allegedly remain in detention
For more related information, click here.
International Politics & Diplomacy
US prepared to “consider other means to protect Syrian civilians” in event of Arab League failure
The arrival of the Arab League in Syria and the simultaneous spike in violence in a number of locations inside the country, prompted the US State Department to issue a Press Statement indicating that the US (along with its allies) is considering a change in its response to the crisis in Syria. The press statement, “Regime Violence in Syria,” released by State Department spokesman Mark Toner read as follows:
“We condemn the Syrian military’s escalation of violence in Homs, Daraa and other cities prior to the deployment of the Arab League monitors. We have seen horrific pictures of indiscriminate fire, including by heavy tank guns, and heard reports of dozens of deaths, thousands of arrests, as well as beatings of peaceful protestors.
“These repressive actions are not consistent with the terms of the Arab League initiative that the Syrian regime agreed to on November 2 or the protocol on observers that the regime agreed to on December 19. These agreements, designed to protect civilians, called for removal of military forces from the cities; allowing peaceful demonstrations; stopping violence by security forces, including the government’s shabiha militia; releasing all political prisoners; and allowing Arab League monitors and members of the international media to report freely on events throughout the country.
“In keeping with the Arab League agreement, we expect that Arab League monitors will be able to deploy and move freely within Homs and other Syrian cities as protestors peacefully gather in reaction to the regime’s excessive violence. The monitors should have unfettered access to protestors and to areas most severely affected by the regime’s crackdown. They bear a heavy responsibility in trying to protect Syrian civilians from the depredations of a murderous regime.
“The next steps that the United States and the international community take will consider the extent of genuine cooperation from Syrian authorities with the Arab League monitoring mission, and the government’s degree of compliance with the other elements of the Arab League initiative. If the Syrian regime continues to resist and disregard Arab League efforts, the international community will consider other means to protect Syrian civilians.”
To view the original statement, click here.
Canadian government freezes assets of Syrian officials and state companies
On Saturday, December 24, the Canadian government ordered Canadian banks to freeze the assets of 33 senior Syrian government officials, including Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as well as those of 10 state-run companies.
At the same time, the Canadian government dismissed accusations by Damascus that the twin bombings of state security offices the day before was the result of an al-Qaeda attack.
It is unclear how much money Canadian banks hold for impacted officials and institutions.
On the opposition:
“The Syrian Revolution and the Question of Militarization” – Jadaliyya – A well-written and important read by Ziad Majed that evaluates the benefits and costs of the opposition’s commitment to remaining largely peaceful.
“Armed With Phone, and Dangerous to Syria” – Wall Street Journal – Marc Champion and Nour Malas interview a Syrian activist, Alaadine al-Yousef, working to confirm reports of deaths and casualties in Jabal Zawiya.
“A Syrian Oppositionist Abroad: ‘Everyone Is Being Followed‘” – Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty – Dorian Jones covers allegations that members of the Syrian opposition living in Turkey come under regular threat by undercover members of Syria’s security forces.
“Syrian Doctors Risk Their Lives To Treat Protesters” – NPR – An audio clip covering the efforts of Syrian doctors to treat injured protestors in makeshift medical clinics.
“Berating the Arab ‘Resistance’ Crowd” – Maysaloon – A post by expat Syrian blogger Maysaloon addressing criticisms of the Syrian revolution including the ideologies of its opposition members and their methods.
“Profile: Syrian Observatory for Human Rights” – BBC – A brief backgrounder on the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, one of the key rights groups monitoring the uprising.
“Syria’s Defecting Bloggers” – The New York Times – Elias Muhanna discusses how many of Syria’s best known bloggers, once firm government supporters, have taken up the opposition’s cause.
“Syria University Students Recount Revolution Stories” – Al-Arabiya – Syrian students discuss activism among their ranks, the difficulty of organizing protests, and the role of the youth in maintaining the momentum of the uprising.
On foreign intervention & international diplomacy:
“Syrian Opposition Backs Foreign Troops on Ground, Warns Violence Could Engulf Region” – ABC – Eleanor Hall interviews Murhaf Jouejati, a US specialist in Middle Eastern politics at the Washington-based Center for Strategic Studies, on the potential impact of the Syrian revolution on sectarian tensions in Iraq, and his perspective on why foreign intervention in Syria is a necessity.
“Moscow’s Position: A Message to the Regime and Opposition in Syria” – The Huffington Post – Raghida Dergham analyzes Russia’s stance on the Syrian revolution and its recent draft UN Security Council resolution, and urges the Syrian opposition to take advantage of the apparent shift in Russian policy to push for more UN pressure on the Syrian government. At the same time, Dergham calls on the opposition to own up to its growing militarization and argues that “internationalization may be a bane for Syria but it is a necessary one”.
“US-Russia ties: Chill over Syria Replaces Warmth of Obama’s ‘Reset’ Policy” – Christian Science Monitor – Howard LaFranchi covers the impact of Russia’s stance on the crisis in Syria on its relations with the US.
References made to articles, individuals, organizations or government bodies in this blog do not necessarily reflect or imply an endorsement by The Syria Report. The Syria News Blog is a news service offered by The Syria Report only for the purpose of recapping foreign reportage on matters pertaining to Syria.
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