Unrest Narrows in on Syrian Capital, Arab League Suspends Mission as UNSC Debates Draft Resolution on Syria
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As unrest narrowed in on the Syrian capital this week, the Arab League moved to suspend the work of its monitoring mission in the country, citing heightened security concerns. At the same time, a number of Arab states along with Britain, France, and Germany, presented the United Nations Security Council with a new draft resolution on Syria. The resolution endorses the Arab League’s plan for an overhaul of the current Syrian government. Today, heavy debate over the text continues as Russia and China remain firmly opposed to any text calling for a change in Syria’s government – or that could pave the way for international intervention.
The Syrian Revolution
The situation inside Syria
On Friday, January 27, Syrian activists reported that an estimated 62 people were killed in violence across the country. The worst of the violence occurred in Homs, where security crackdowns and subsequent clashes between government forces and army defectors were reported.
Reports released on Friday also suggested that a number of residential buildings in the besieged city had been blasted by gunfire and mortars. According to the same unconfirmed reportage, an entire family was killed during the attack, among them, five children, five women, and a man.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a “fierce military campaign” was also carried out in the Hamadiyeh district of Hama early that morning.
A car bomb also exploded in the city of Idlib on Friday, though casualty reports were conflicting. Most indicate that at least two members of the security forces died in the explosion.
In Aleppo, protestors reportedly held large demonstrations. Some nine people were killed during ensuing security crackdowns.
On Monday, an opposition-led attack on a minibus traveling through Hirak resulted in the deaths of six security force members. Tanks were subsequently deployed to the area resulting in three civilian casualties.
The death toll from violence across the country that day was high, with figures in the dozens as security crackdowns and clashes continued in Homs and the outskirts of Damascus.
Over the course of the last week, clashes between the military and armed members of the opposition have both intensified and narrowed in on Damascus. This turn of events is fueling ongoing concerns that the crisis is becoming a civil war.
In response to the opposition’s growing hold in certain areas of the capital’s suburbs, military forces moved in on a broad swath of Damascus’s outlying districts last weekend, reportedly cutting off electricity, water, and phone lines in advance of operations. Casualty reports from around the week were very high. For more reportage on this shift in the country’s security situation, see the following links:
“Syria’s Crisis: It Looks Like Civil War” – The Economist
“Syrian Revolt Creeps Closer to Damascus” – Financial Times
“Damascus: The Battle for the Hinterland” – Al-Akhbar
“Syrian Rebels Make Inroads With Help of Armed Fighters” – The New York Times
“Syrian Troops Battle to Retake Damascus Suburbs” – The Guardian
“Syrian Uprising Intensifies As Troops Defend Capital” – Wall Street Journal
Kidnapping of Iranians
Iranian news agencies reported that a group of Iranian pilgrims traveling in Syria were kidnapped on Friday, January 27 by the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
Other news agencies reported the story differently, however, instead charging that FSA members had kidnapped five Iranian soldiers who were allegedly in Syria to support the Syrian government’s crackdown against the opposition.
On January 28, the Iranian government released a report claiming the men are now being held in Lebanon.
Meanwhile, subsequent reports have confirmed that the Al Farouq Brigade, a unit of the FSA, is indeed responsible for their kidnapping.
Syrian National Council promises better relations with Lebanon
On Thursday, January 26, opposition group the Syrian National Council (SNC) posted an “Open Letter to the Lebanese People” on its website, promising that it would improve relations between Syria and Lebanon in the future.
“The Syrian National Council seeks a bright future with Lebanon … we will review agreements signed between the two countries and reach new agreements based on the independent and common interests of both nations,” the council’s letter said.
According to the statement, the council would seek to abolish the Syrian-Lebanese Majlis al-Aa’la, officially demarcate the Syrian border, and adjust the two countries shared border.
The issue of border demarcation has been a longstanding one, as a number of villages in northern Lebanon rest in unmarked areas. The issue has become more complex as recent Syrian military operations have occurred within some of the unmarked areas.
The SNC also promised to bring an end to the role of Syrian security and intelligence forces operating within Lebanon.
Lebanon’s Civil War (1975-1990) ended with Syrian ‘tutelage’ over the country, which only ended when Syria pulled its military out in 2005 following mass protests in Lebanon.
Syrian opposition group to begin funding Free Syrian Army
On Friday, January 27, international press reported that the Syrian National Council was set to begin offering monetary support and equipment to the FSA. Basma Kodmani, SNC spokesperson, told Reuters that the SNC was working to help the FSA structure and coordinate its forces.
“The SNC is now mapping who the groups are on the ground in Syria and Turkey,” Kodmani said. “We have military experts, former Syrian military, who are mapping where they are and linking them into some form of command chain.”
According to Kodmani, the SNC will not provide the FSA with weapons, however, as it does not support attacks against people or infrastructure.
The monetary support is reportedly intended to keep the group afloat. The SNC will also provide the group with needed equipment. “They need communications equipment, bullet-proof vests and non-offensive equipment to make sure they are integrated with each other. If they are left isolated, they will transform into militias,” Kodmani explained.
On the issue of the FSA’s overall command and operational structure, Kodmani said, “It’s necessary to make sure the FSA’s action can be organized with a strategic objective.” In reference to Libya’s armed rebellion, Kodmani said, “The main weakness is that it has no territory. There is no Benghazi, but there are pockets.”
International Politics & Diplomacy
According to Kuwaiti daily, Saudi Arabia to recognize Syrian National Council
On January 27, Al-Rai, a Kuwaiti daily reported that Saudi Arabia will recognize the Syrian National Council as the “official representative” of the Syrian people. The report cited Ahmed Ramadan, a member of the SNC’s executive council. According to Ramadan, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told an SNC delegation in Cairo that the kingdom would recognize the SNC.
The report did not indicate when such a move would officially take place. It remains unclear if such news is indeed accurate.
Controversy over Syrian seats on UNESCO human rights committees
Some 25 countries are working to unseat Syria from two UNESCO committees focused on human rights issues. Qatar, Kuwait, and United Arab Emirates and the United States put the issue on the meeting agenda of the organization’s executive board. The board is set to hold its next round of meetings beginning February 27.
Ironically, the group of Arab countries calling for its unseating, is the same group that voted to put Syria on both committees back in November 2011.
Hamas reportedly abandons headquarters in Damascus
According to a report released by Reuters on Friday, January 27, the leader of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, Khaled Meshaal, has abandoned the group’s headquarters in Damascus.
An unnamed regional diplomat was quoted as saying, “Meshaal is not staying in Syria as he used to do. He is almost out all the time.”
According to another unnamed source, Meshaal has no plans to return to Syria, though the group does maintain a small presence in the country.
The most likely new headquarters for the office is said to be in Qatar, though no such reports are confirmed.
Arab League suspends monitoring mission
On January 28, the Arab League announced that it was suspending its monitoring mission in Syria as a result of the country’s deepening security crisis. The monitors are set to remain in Syria but will suspend their activities for the time being.
The mission began back in December with the intent of monitoring Syria’s compliance with the League’s peace plan. Violence only intensified during the mission’s mandate and the observer force was plagued with controversy as a result of its inexperience and inability and/or unwillingness to travel to the most volatile and troubled parts of the country.
The mission submitted a report of its findings two weeks ago, though it was not released to the public. A confidential account of the mission and its troubles written by an unnamed monitor was leaked to the press this week. The account details all of the missions myriad troubles, highlighting a lack of resources and inexperience, and confusion as to the focus and aim of the mission.
To review the leaked account, click here.
To read some analysis of the account and the broader plight of the mission, see here.
New Arab-European draft UN Security Council resolution on Syria
On Friday, January 27, a number of Arab states along with the UK, France, Germany, submitted a new UN Security Council draft resolution on Syria. The draft resolution supported the Arab League’s call for President Bashar al-Assad to hand power over to a deputy. The Security Council initiated closed-door negotiations over the draft that day.
In response to the move, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Gennadi Gatilov, reiterated Russia’s stance in opposition to any United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution on Syria that would call upon Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down terming any such resolution “doomed to failure”.
On Monday, debate over the draft resolution continued at the UNSC, with nearly all attention focused on Russia. Senior members of the SNC also met in New York to lobby UNSC members to support the draft resolution.
Russia announced that day that it had succeeded in convincing the Syrian government to come to Moscow for mediation talks. The SNC immediately rejected the offer, however, stating that unless the Syrian President first agreed to step down from power, there was little to negotiate.
According to press reports, Russia, China, and India argued over the draft “line by line” with India also working to insert text into the resolution that would blame the Syrian opposition for some of the violence, and Russia and China remaining firmly opposed to any calls for a change in government and expressing concerns that the resolution would pave the way for international intervention in Syria. Washington reportedly sought unsuccessfully to allay those concerns.
A number of foreign officials condemned Russia’s ongoing opposition to the resolution, with US Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice stating that, “We have seen the consequences of neglect and inaction by this Council over the course of the last 10 months, not because the majority of the Council isn’t eager to act — it has been.” Rice continued, “There have been a couple of very powerful members who have not been willing to see that action take place,” she said in reference to both Russia and China.
Amid all the debate, White House spokesman, Jim Carney said on Monday that President Assad’s “fall is inevitable. “As governments make decisions about where they stand on this issue and what steps need to be taken with regards to brutality of Assad’s regime, it’s important to calculate into your consideration the fact that he will go. The regime has lost control of the country and he will eventually fall,” he continued, undoubtedly in reference to Russia’s continued support for Damascus.
The following day, however, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov, said that “The Western draft Security Council resolution on Syria will not lead to a search for compromise,” Interfax reported. “Pushing it is a path to civil war,” Gatilov continued.
The Arab League also briefed the UNSC on Tuesday and negotiations over the text of the draft resumed the following day. The League urged Council members to adopt the draft resolution. League members emphasized that their plan does not prompt foreign governments to use force, or the threat of it, in Syria.
The same day, US Secretary of State made a formal statement at the UN, endorsing the Arab League’s plan and charging that the UNSC had a choice: “Stand with the people of Syria and the region or become complicit in the continuing violence there.” Some excerpts from Clinton’s remarks:
“The United States urges the Security Council to back the Arab League’s demand that the Syrian Government immediately stop all attacks against civilians and guarantee the freedom of peaceful demonstrations. In accordance with the Arab League’s plan, Syria must also release all arbitrarily detained citizens, return its military and security forces to their barracks, allow full and unhindered access for monitors, humanitarian workers, and journalists.”
“Now, I know that some members here may be concerned that the Security Council could be headed toward another Libya. That is a false analogy. Syria is a unique situation that requires its own approach, tailored to the specific circumstances occurring there. And that is exactly what the Arab League has proposed – a path for a political transition that would preserve Syria’s unity and institutions.”
“It is time for the international community to put aside our own differences and send a clear message of support to the people of Syria. The alternative – spurning the Arab League, abandoning the Syrian people, emboldening the dictator – would compound this tragedy, and would mark a failure of our shared responsibility, and shake the credibility of the United Nations Security Council.”
To read Clinton’s remarks in full, see here.
On Wednesday, Syrian Ambassador to the UN, Bashar al-Jafari made a number of remarks about the UNSC draft resolution on Syria. Some excerpts:
“Today Syria is facing decisive challenges in its history and we want this particular stage to be under the will of our people not anyone else and to be a point of determination to meet the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people.”
“Syria considers the decision made at the AL Council’s recent meeting a violation of Syria’s national sovereignty, a flagrant interference in its internal affairs and a gross transgression of the goals for which the AL was founded and of the eighth provision of its charter.”
To read more of Jafari’s remarks, see here.
At present, the UNSC remains at a standstill on Syria.
For some excerpts of the draft resolution presented to the UNSC on Friday, January 27 along with related commentary, see here.
On the Free Syrian Army and the opposition’s shortcomings:
“The Free Syrian Army Bleeds the Assad Regime” – Washington Institute for Near East Policy – Defense fellow Jeffrey White covers the FSA, using media reports and the groups communiques to detail its alleged numbers, command structure, operations, and overall role in the current situation. An interesting read, though somewhat dubious given the nature of its sources.
“Free Syrian Army: Better Tool for Toppling Syria’s Assad than UN?” – The Christian Science Monitor – Nicholas Blanford covers the FSA’s growing numbers and sway among beleaguered protestors.
“Rebels Without a Clue: Why Can’t the Syrian Opposition Get its Act Together?” – Foreign Policy – Justin Vela critiques the Syrian opposition with particular emphasis on the Syrian National Council, highlighting its lack of minority representation, overall disunity, and dearth of financial resources, among much else.
On the revolution’s prospects and international intervention:
“Syria’s Assad Regime is Doomed, But the Battle Will Be Long and Bloody” – Syria Comment – Joshua Landis argues that while the current Syrian government will remain at the helm of the country “well into 2013–if not longer–despite Syria’s rapidly deteriorating economic and security conditions”, it is fated to fall. Landis bases his assessment on a number of issues, the strength of the current government compared to the opposition, disunity among the opposition, and the international community’s wariness of intervention, among them.
“Syria’s Crisis Deepens: Does Internationalization Loom?” – Informed Comment – Middle East expert Juan Cole weighs in on the prospects of the Syrian crisis becoming internationalized, asserting that the perseverance of the opposition and the onslaught of conflict around Damascus does not bode well for the current government. Cole argues that the intensification of the crisis will undermine Russian support for Damascus, perhaps with the end result of Russian backing for a shift in leadership in Damascus.
“Syria 1st-Hand: Getting Behind the Stories of ‘Revolution’” – Enduring America – A comprehensive analysis of the revolution in Syria, from the forces driving it, to the increasingly internationalized aspects of the opposition aiming to represent it (i.e. the SNC), to the members of the international community likely to exploit it for their own geostrategic gains.
“Get Used to It: Intervention in Syria is Coming” – Now Lebanon – Hussein Ibish discusses what he terms the US’s ‘reactive role’ with regard Syria, wherein Washington wants a change in leadership in Damascus, but does not want to become ensnared in the operations required to bring such change about. Ibish notes that this conundrum is indeed shared by a number of foreign players and will likely reach a tipping point as the arming of the opposition pushes the country into civil war, propelling foreign governments to intervene.
“Why We Have a Responsibility to Protect Syria” – The Atlantic – Shadi Hamid argues in favor of foreign intervention in Syria noting that a growing number of Syrian opposition members are calling for such a move and asserting that the NATO-led campaign in Libya appropriately upheld the concept of the ‘responsibility to protect’.
On opposition culture:
“Syrians Face Crackdown With Creativity, Humor” – NPR – A report on the black humor, art, and new mediums of expression that have surfaced in Syria since the start of the revolution.
Human interest reads on the opposition, present-day life in Syria:
“Syrian Activists in Beirut: Waiting in the Shadows” – Al-Akhbar – Serene Assir covers the lives of Syrian activists in Beirut, including those who have fled Syria to avoid required military service, and those who are in Lebanon illegally without proper papers, as well as underlying fears of the connection between Lebanon’s General Security apparatus and Damascus. According to Assir, the Lebanese government has made progress in recent months in protecting the security of Syrian activists.
“Syria: A Family’s Struggle in Latakia” – Al-Akhbar – Anas Zarzar covers the impact of the revolution on Syria’s middle class in Lattakia where, as with the rest of the country, power cuts, fuel shortages, rising prices, and security issues are pervasive. Issues of sectarian tensions among some elements of the opposition are also covered.
“This is Damascus” – Jadaliyya – Salma Idilbi’s somber critique of opposition members who have fled Syria and continue to press for protests and revolt.
On kidnapping, sectarianism:
“In Tumultuous Syrian City, Kidnapping Trade Booms” – Reuters – A report from an anonymous journalist based in Homs covering the growing number of kidnappings in the city. Sectarian issues are also covered.
On Russia’s relations with Syria:
“Russia Backing of Syria’s Assad Seen as Way to Maintain Foothold in Arab World” – The Washington Post – Excerpt: “Russia’s defiance of international efforts to end Syrian President Bashar Assad’s crackdown on protests is rooted in a calculation that it can keep a Mideast presence by propping up its last remaining ally in the region — and has nothing to lose if it fails.” Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is Russia’s only ally in the region and Damascus is among the biggest buyers of Russian weapons, particularly now that markets in both Libya and Iraq have dried up.
“Russia’s Self-defeating Game in Syria” – CNN – A succinct backgrounder by Jeffrey Mankoff on Russia-Syria relations and an assessment of the factors driving Russia’s continued support for Damascus – including the issue that Russia views its continued relations with the Syrian government as a bargaining chip in its relations with Washington. Mankoff warns that Moscow’s approach runs the risk of backfiring as Damascus appears increasingly cornered.
“As Nations Line Up Against Syrian Government, Russia Sides Firmly With Assad” – The New York Times – Ellen Barry covers Russia’s “unstinting support” for Damascus and the efforts of foreign governments to convince Moscow to change its position.
“Russia’s Reasons for Saying ‘No’ on Syria” – The New York Times – Harvey Morris details the three factors he maintains are at play behind Russia’s backing of Damascus: 1) resentment of NATO-led operations in Libya; 2) high stakes defense ties, and; 3) the desire to preserve a ‘check’ on the ‘foreign policy ambitions’ of the US.
“Russian Arms Shipments Bolster Syria’s Embattled Assad” – BBC – Richard Galpin details at length the manner in which Russia’s ongoing shipments of arms have aided the Syrian government.
On the Syrian revolution’s impact on Turkey:
“Iran, Syria and Iraq: Turkey’s Challenging Triangle?” – Middle East Online – Idrees Mohammed covers the impact of the revolution in Syria on Turkish foreign policy and broader geostrategic aims – with particular focus on both Iran and Iraq.
Two photo essays:
“In Pictures: Ten Months of Syrian Uprising” – Al-Jazeera – Photographs from multiple sources.
“Inside Syria” – MSNBC – Photographs by Ayman Mohyeldin.
“On the Syrian Frontline in Al-Qusayr” – The Guardian – Photographs by Alessio Romenzi.
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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