Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stressed that “political games” prevented Russia from investigating the data on the use of toxic substances in Aleppo: the UN Secretariat couldn’t respond promptly to Moscow’s demand to look into the matter.
In March, the Syrian government invited the United Nations to investigate possible chemical weapons use in the Khan al-Assal area of rural Aleppo. Military experts and officials said a chemical agent, most likely sarin, was used in the attack which killed 26 people, including government forces.
Several countries, including Israel, the UK, France and the US – all vocal critics of Syrian President Bashar Assad – all claimed they had evidence that chemical weapons were used in Syria.
Damascus denied that a chemical attack was carried out by the Syrian army, blaming the rebels and Turkey for the incident: “The rocket came from a place controlled by the terrorists and which is located close to the Turkish territory. One can assume that the weapon came from Turkey,” Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoabi alleged in an interview with Interfax news agency.
Lavrov spoke following the reports that Turkish security forces found a 2kg cylinder with sarin gas after searching the homes of Syrian militants from the Al-Qaeda linked Al-Nusra Front who were previously detained.
The sarin gas was found in the homes of alleged Syrian militants, who were reportedly planning a terrorist attack on the southern Turkish city of Adana.
Russia expressed concern over the incident, urging for a thorough investigation into the matter.
Almost a month ago, the Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Muqdad said that Damascus was ready to have the UN investigation team look into alleged chemical weapons use in Syria.
“We were ready and we are always ready, right now, to receive the delegation that was set up by [UN Secretary-General] Ban Ki-moon to investigate what happened in Khan al-Assal,” Muqdad said, referring to the March 19 incident near Aleppo.
Syrian rebels are accused of using a rocket with a chemical warhead, killing 25 people and injuring 86, according to SANA news agency.
The Syrian civil war has been raging for more than two years now, with more than 80,000 people killed, according to UN estimates.
In his latest statement on the matter, Lavrov noted the Russian government’s concern over the issue due to the chance of provocations around the situation.
As the battle for Qusayr winds down, regime forces are preparing to wrest Aleppo from the Syrian opposition, which overran the city last July.
According to Syrian security sources, the Syrian army has begun building up its forces in several areas in preparation to storm opposition-controlled Aleppo. The sources explained that they are in the process of surrounding the city in order to cut off the oppositions supply lines.
If it were to succeed, then the regime would have managed to regain two of Syria’s most important governorates: Homs and Aleppo.
Homs was the “capital of the Syrian revolution,” until government troops retook the city. Ten months have passed since opposition fighters managed to flood Aleppo by the thousands, surprising both the regime and the city’s residents. The city had remained solidly in the loyalist camp for more than a year into the Syrian crisis and no one expected it to fall into the hands of the opposition so quickly and easily.
Government sources attributed the fall of Aleppo to the collusion of Mohammed Mufleh, the former chief of Syrian Military Intelligence in Hama, with the opposition’s Tawhid Brigade. According to military sources, Mufleh was paid a large sum of money to facilitate the passage of thousands of opposition fighters into the city.
Military sources maintained that the Aleppans were not particularly welcoming of the opposition, which committed massacres against whole loyalist families, like the Bazzi clan. The same sources estimated the number of fighters in the city may have now reached 20,000.
Mufleh’s defection and the role he played in Aleppo is old news by now. What has not been known until now, however, is his relationship to the Muslim Brotherhood’s Tawhid Brigade, particularly in its initial phases.
Reports suggested that the intelligence chief – before announcing his defection – was in cahoots with Tawhid as it tried to establish its hold in the areas of Aleppo and Idlib.
The relationship reached a point in which Mufleh was prepared to hand over all the weapons at his disposal to the brigade. Tawhid waged a series of successful side battles with other armed groups, accusing them of working for the regime.
After Mufleh’s defection, contacts between Tawhid and commanders loyal to him continued. The breaking point, however, came when these commanders requested that Tawhid “lay down its weapons and declare that it will enter into negotiations with the regime,” only to discover that the opposition brigade had opened up new channels with Turkey and Qatar, before finally announcing its loyalty to the Muslim Brotherhood.
- Syria: Border Clashes Pit FSA Against Kurds (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Have Washington and Tel Aviv Miscalculated Events in al-Qusayr (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Tension returns to the already unstable relationship between the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the Kurdish Popular Protection Units in the countryside of Aleppo, following attempts by the FSA to raid Kurdish-controlled villages in the Afrin region.
The clashes in the Afrin region – between units of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Tawhid Brigade and Islamist and Kurdish groups supported by Ankara – resulted in the displacement of some villagers and the closure of the Afrin-Aleppo road.
Kurdish sources confirmed to Al-Akhbar that 14 members of the opposition units and two Kurdish fighters were killed over the weekend. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the clashes caused the death of 11 rebel fighters and the injury of more than 20.
Reports on injuries and the clashes’ cause conflicted. In a statement, the Popular Protection Units (YPG) announced the deaths of 11 members of armed groups, including a battalion commander, and the injuring of 15 other fighters.
On the other hand, the Tawhid Brigade said that the “commander of Battalion 21″ was killed, as well as the commander of the Sayyid al-Shuhada al-Hamza, AKA Shamel. Dissident Kurdish captain Bioar Mustafa, commander of the Salaheddin Battalion fighting alongside the FSA against the YPG, was also injured.
The Tawhid Battalion accused one of the Kurdish checkpoints of “facilitating the passage of residents of Kfar Nebel,” which the FSA has put under siege.
The YPG, however, said in a statement that “FSA groups attacked the village of Aqiba in Nahiet Shirawa and the YPG responded to the attack.”
FSA units kidnapped two Kurdish citizens from the village of Bassila on the Aleppo-Afrin road. The Syrian army exploited the clashes between the two opposition groups. A source close to the FSA was reported saying that the regime’s forces sent military and logistical reinforcements to the besieged Ming Military Airport.
In the meantime, the Sheikh Said Piran battalions fighting alongside the FSA at the Ming Airport and some neighborhoods of Aleppo announced its “complete withdrawal from Aleppo and the beginning of a march to Afrin to defend it against the FSA.”
The Kurdish Front Brigade, which is close to the YPG despite fighting against the Syrian army alongside the FSA, announced that they are coordinating all their operations with the YPG. “They are with us in the same trench,” it said.
The YPG, however, maintained that the FSA’s attack “targets the entire Afrin region and was planned in advance.” Kurdish sources maintained that there is a plan by the FSA in the Aleppo countryside to attack the villages of Afrin and impose an economic siege.
However, this is not the first attempt by FSA groups in Aleppo to attack villages under the control of the Kurdish units. In this respect, a Kurdish source explained to Al-Akhbar that the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood “is a bigger threat to the Kurds from the entire Baathist doctrine.”
“But anytime the Brotherhood thinks about cleansing Aleppo or its countryside, they will find that the Kurds will be their biggest challenge,” he added.
“Despite the Brotherhood knowing that they are fighting a losing battle in Afrin, which will weaken and drain them, they seem to be pulled ideologically,” he said. “This cancels the pragmatic side.”
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has chosen Swedish scientist Ake Sellstrom to lead a UN investigation into the use of chemical weapons in Syria.
“He is an accomplished scientist with a solid background in disarmament and international security,” UN spokesman Martin Nesirky announced on Tuesday.
The fact-finding team was set up at the request of the Syrian government after insurgents in Syria were accused of using chemical weapons against civilians near the northern city of Aleppo where dozens of people have been killed and nearly 140 more injured.
It was not immediately clear who else would be on Sellstrom’s team. Russia said on Monday that Russian and Chinese experts should be part of the investigation, but Moscow’s U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said on Tuesday that Russia would “most likely not” be represented.
Sellstrom was a chief inspector for UNSCOM, the U.N. inspection team that investigated and dismantled Iraq’s biological and chemical weapons programs in the 1990s, reports said.
Sellstrom also worked with UNMOVIC, the U.N. group that returned to Iraq in 2002 and found no solid evidence that Baghdad had revived its weapons-of-mass-destruction programs before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion as Washington and London alleged at the time.
Partitioning Syria at the Doha Summit (Excerpt)
The US-European-Gulf axis has succeeded in dragging the world into a new round of violence and anarchy, all in the name of taking Syria away from Bashar al-Assad.
Those behind this phase no longer care about their public face; they have revealed the true state of the Syrian opposition groups they sponsor. They have brought them totally under their control. So Moaz al-Khatib can protest and resign, Free Syrian Army fighters and officers can object, and opposition figures can complain as much as they like in the press or on TV. What matters is that in conjunction with this decision, the following must be done:
– Sponsorship of opposition forces from Turkey to be escalated. This seeks to impose new military and intelligence chiefs on the armed groups, providing them with new kinds of weapons, and bringing them more firmly under the control of the foreign capitals concerned. A central military objective has been defined: to fully occupy Aleppo as a prelude to proclaiming the new Syrian state in the north.
– The world presented with a fait accompli in the form of an “interim government.” This reflects the total submission of the Islamist opposition, be it Muslim Brotherhood or Salafi, to Gulf leadership, and the collusion of military commanders on the ground. The idea is for this body to be able to request foreign assistance in various forms.
– The Syrian government’s allies, whether in Iraq, Iran or Lebanon, are to be threatened by means of additional funding for civil conflicts that are liable to preoccupy them.
The conspiracy against Syria being hatched at the Doha summit is a massive gamble, as well as a historic crime. The Gulf sheikhs, in conjunction with Western and Arab capital, are launching a step-by-step process of partitioning Syria. – Full article
Residents and medics transport a Syrian soldier, wounded in Aleppo chemical attack, to hospital on March 19, 2013.
Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi has described militants’ use of chemical weapons as the “first act” by the so-called opposition interim government.
The Syrian minister also said that Turkey and Qatar, which support militants fighting against the government of President Bashar al-Assad, bore “legal, moral and political responsibility” for the chemical attack in the northern city of Aleppo on Tuesday.
At least 25 people were killed and 86 others were injured after militants fired rocks containing “poisonous gases” into Aleppo’s Khan al-Assal village. Women and children are reported to be among the victims.
According to a Reuters photographer in Aleppo, victims of attack were suffering breathing problems.
“I saw mostly women and children. They (witnesses) said that people were suffocating in the streets and the air smelt strongly of chlorine,” he said adding that “people were dying in the streets and in their houses.”
Foreign-backed militants, who had threatened to use chemical weapons against the army government forces and Assad supporters a few months ago, have denied using chemical weapons and have accused government forces of being behind the attack.
The attack comes hours after Syria’s opposition National Coalition elected Ghassan Hitto, a former US-based IT executive, as prime minister for what it called an interim government.
Militants fighting against the Syrian government have fired at a civilian plane as it was preparing to take off from Aleppo airport.
A militant commander told Reuters on Friday that snipers from his brigade had hit the wheels of Syrian Airways flight RB201 a day before.
The commander, who gave his name only as Khaldoun, said the attack was a message to the government that all planes, either military or civilian, are within the militants’ reach.
It was the first direct attack on a civilian flight since fighting escalated between foreign-backed militants and government forces a few months ago.
Meanwhile, Palestinians are returning to their homes in Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus after government forces managed to clear the camp of militants.
Syria has been experiencing unrest since March 2011. Many people, including large numbers of army and security personnel, have been killed in the turmoil.
A recent UN report has revealed that militants from 29 countries have so far filtered into Syria to fight against the government of President Bashar al-Assad, most of whom are extremist Salafists.
The Syrian government has repeatedly said that the chaos is being orchestrated from outside the country, and that a very large number of the militants operating in the country are foreign nationals.
In their fervent struggle, a Syrian rebel group has “arrested” a Lebanese journalist in Aleppo saying his “presence as a journalist no longer receives approval in areas controlled by the rebels.”
Fidaa Itani, who works for the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation (LBCI) and several other news outlets, was travelling though Aleppo under protection of a rebel group when he was arrested and handed over to another rebel group which controls a small town some 30km away from the besieged port-city.
The rebels said on their Facebook page they found Itani’s work “incompatible with the path of the Syrian revolution and rebels.”
They promised to free the reporter who is now in rebel custody “shortly” – after the necessary documents and information are acquired.
Itani was seized after he raised suspicions, taking pictures and videos of “large amounts of operations” in Syria’s second largest city. The content of his reports also seems to have fallen afoul of how the rebels want the popular uprising against Bashar Al-Assad’s government to be covered.
“Reports and videos have not proven yet Itani’s involvement with any party that works against the revolution, but his presence as a journalist no longer receives approval in areas controlled by the rebels,” the group said in a statement.
LBCI, as well as Lebanese MPs, are in contact with the group and their leader, Abu Ibrahim. They expect Itani to be set free in a couple of days.
Abu Ibrahim and the Azaz rebel group have abducted Lebanese nationals before. Eleven Lebanese pilgrims, who were returning from Iran through Syria, were kidnapped by the group in May. Only two of them have been released so far.
The rebels have used the term “detained” to describe the abduction of the journalist, but they in fact have committed “a criminal action” and “kidnapped” him, Manuel Ochsenreiter, editor-in-chief of the German monthly news magazine Zuerst, told RT.
“Indeed this is an alarming development but this is not new,” he said. “He is not the first journalist to have been kidnapped in Syria. We see a huge number of journalists that were killed by the rebels in Syria, who were killed by the Al-Qaeda related groups. I just want to remember the journalists of the Syrian TV channel, Syrian News TV where some journalist were killed and where the building was attacked at the end of June this year.”
At the same time the Syrian government does not prevent journalists making reports that disagree with the official line, says Ochsenreiter, who himself had visited Damascus during the conflict.
“I was in Damascus and what I can say is that I met a lot of journalists who were not filing reports consistent with the official line of the Syrian government’s cause and they were not detained, they were not kidnapped, they were free to work in the country,” he said. “So, you see that there is a huge difference how journalists work in Syria and there is a monster huge difference in the risk.”
Itani was kidnapped just hours after the release of a video in which Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawari had called for Muslims to kidnap Westerners as a bargaining chip, to win the release of its members held captive around the world. In a new video posted online he also urged Islamists to support Syrian rebels with “all that they can.”
This is not the first time that a foreign reporter has gone missing in the Arab country since it plunged into civil unrest in March 2011. In one of the most recent incidents, Ukrainian reporter Anhar Kochneva disappeared several weeks ago and has not yet been freed. In total, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, three international reporters remain unaccounted for in Syria, while over 20 have been killed adding to more than 20,000 casualties suffered by Syria.
Ankara – It would seem to be quite simple. All that has to happen for the fighting to end in Syria is for those with guns in their hands to put them down. So why isn’t it happening?
Again the answer is simple and not just seemingly. Outside governments supporting the armed groups do not want them to put their weapons down. It has been deliberately locked into a cycle of violence which its enemies hope will end in its destruction. This strategy is the prime cause of the death and devastation over which the sponsors of this violence have been wringing their hands before the UN General Assembly.
Agendas vary slightly but the prime goal of Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the governments of the US, Britain and France is not political reform but the destruction of Iran’s best friend in the region. Syria is the central arch in a strategic relationship between Hezbollah, Syria and Iran. The fall of that central arch would give western governments one of their greatest strategic victories in the modern history of the Middle East.
Syria is frequently described as collapsing or bleeding or plunging into ‘civil war’. None is correct. Syria is being collapsed, being bled and being plunged into devastation as the direct consequence of decisions taken outside Syria. The collective calling itself ‘The Friends of the Syrian People’ has deliberately brought Syria to where it is now. There are no small mercies in this situation but it could have been even worse, if these ‘friends’ had been able to launch an aerial assault under the aegis of the Security Council. Had Russia and China not blocked them, Syria would be now be a total ruin, with an infinitely greater number of dead than the 20,000 or so already killed. Their fallback position was the war of attrition being waged by their armed protégés.
Few countries could withstand the battering Syria has taken in the past 18 months. In the name of ‘regime change’ horror has followed horror. Aleppo has been turned into a replica of Beirut at the height of the civil war, with a large part of the medieval souk now burnt to the ground. Yet the government has not collapsed and neither has the army disintegrated. The message from this is that Syria has a government and not a ‘regime’ and an army – in which the ordinary soldiers are mostly Sunni Muslim – and not ‘Assad loyalists’.
Military defections have been few. So have defections from the ranks of government despite the large amounts of money on offer. Foreign Minister Walid Muallim was offered $100 million by the ruler of Qatar if he would defect but turned it down and went public with the bribe. One of the last known of cases was the $20,000 a month for the next 20 years and a home in Doha offered to the Syrian consul in Mauritania. He also refused. Bashar al Assad was totally correct when he said a few days ago that the rulers of Saudi Arabia and Qatar think they can buy anyone. If there is anywhere where ‘regime change’ is needed it is surely in these gulf states.
One of the last defectors was the head of security in Aleppo. Before his departure and untimely end (he was assassinated a few kilometers short of the Turkish border by persons unknown) he had arranged for the infiltration of thousands of jihadis into the city. Many are not even Syrian. They have come to fight the jihad from all corners of the Muslim world. There are Chechens, Afghans, Pakistanis, Tajiks, Tunisians, Egyptians, Libyans (lots of Libyans), Saudis and Iraqis. Aleppo has been targeted because it is close to the Turkish border, and the hope is that it can be turned into a ‘rebel’ capital in a ‘liberated’ zone stretching up to the Turkish border. This could be done only over the dead bodies and against the wishes of the people of the city.
Whether inside the cells fighting in the name of the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA) or operating independently, the salafi jihadis inside Syria are tactically cooperating against the common enemy. The FSA is little more than a convenient trademark. Most of the armed groups have their own command structure and take no notice of the FSA. Recently Riad al Assad crossed the border from Turkey to direct the struggle from inside Syria, only to stay a day and a night before going back because there was no point in him staying. The political arm of the FSA is the so-called Syrian National Council, touted as an alternative government but dysfunctional from the start and now recognized as such even by its sponsors. Put these two hard realities together and you have the formula for complete chaos. There is no alternative government in sight. There is no rational end in sight. The armed groups cannot overthrow the government without the direct intervention of their outside sponsors and that possibility seems to be receding although Qatar is still trying to talk it up. All that lies ahead of Syria unless the violence can be ended and negotiations begun is more chaos, more destruction and more loss of life.
Not that chaos is to be discarded as an end in itself. It will take Syria decades to recover from the damage already done whoever governs in Damascus. If the decision is finally taken to attack Iran, Syria would probably be too stricken to come to its aid even if the government has not been overthrown; if Syria cannot help, then Hezbollah might have to stay on the sidelines as well, releasing Israel from the fear of a second front opening in the north. This is how the governments orchestrating the campaign against Syria want the dominoes to fall. The implications for the Palestinians are clear. Any gain for Israel is a loss for them and the overthrow of the Syrian government, followed by the collapse of the strategic relationship between Hezbollah, Syria and Iran, would be an enormous gain for Israel, releasing pressure on one front and giving it more time to complete its absorption of Jerusalem and the West Bank.
What most Syrians want is to be left alone to sort out their own affairs. They want change but not at any cost. They don’t want the west sticking its nose in their affairs and they don’t want armed gangs running amok in their country. The west might have forgotten its own bloody record in the Middle East dating back to the beginning of the 19th century but Syrians have not. They know how disastrously western intervention always ends in the Middle East. Heads of governments who have been fueling the armed opposition have been lining up at the UN General Assembly to call for an end to the violence. If they mean what they say, they would be throwing their weight behind the attempts of the non-violent domestic opposition to bring a mediated end to this conflict. But they don’t and therefore must be seen for what they are – hypocrites who are pushing their own agenda at massive cost to Syria and its people.
- Jeremy Salt is an associate professor of Middle Eastern history and politics at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey.
- ‘West wants end of Syria as a functioning independent state’ (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Ankara – Turkey’s intervention in Syria has been an act of unprecedented folly. Not since the republic was established in 1923 – not even when the military was in charge – has a Turkish government sought ‘regime change’ in another country. In sponsoring armed groups seeking to destroy the Syrian government, the collective calling itself ‘The Friends of the Syrian People’ appears to be committing serious violations of international law. While the focus has to remain on the prime victims of their intervention, the Syrian people, it is also the case that more than a year later the policy has not worked for Turkey and is blowing up in the face of its architects, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.
Article 2 (1) of the UN Charter (1945) states that the organization is based on the ‘sovereign equality of all its Members’. Article 2 (3) states that all members ‘shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security and justice are not endangered’. Article 2 (4) required all members to refrain in their international relations ‘from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state or in any manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations’. Article 2 (7) states that ‘nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisprudence of any state’. Chapter 7 of the charter grants the Security Council the right to take action but only in cases of a threat to peace, a breach of the peace or an act of aggression. ‘Peace’ here is clearly intended to mean international peace and not the disruption of domestic peace by domestic disorder.
In 1965 the sovereign rights of the state were further affirmed in General Assembly Resolution 2131 (XX), entitled Declaration on the Inadmissibility of Intervention in the Domestic Affairs of States and the Protection of Their Independence and the Protection of Their Independence and Sovereignty, passed on December 21 by a vote of 109-0. Three of the core principles are adumbrated below:
1. No State has the right to intervene directly or indirectly for any reason whatever in the internal and external affairs of any State. Consequently armed intervention and all other forms of interference or attempted threats against the personality of the State or against its political, economic and cultural elements are condemned.
2. No State may use or encourage the use of economic, political or any other type of measures to coerce another State in order to obtain from it the subordination of the exercise of its sovereign rights or to secure from its advantages of any kind. Also no State shall organize, assist, foment, finance, incite or tolerate subversive, terrorist or armed activities directed towards the violent overthrow of the regime of another State or interfere in civil strife in another State.
The fact that powerful states bully the weak and frequently violate their sovereign rights is no excuse for Turkey to do the same. The question of whether the Justice and Development Party government is violating Turkey’s own laws is another issue, already raised in the Turkish media and by opposition politicians.
None of this would matter so much if Turkey’s policy had worked out. Bashar would have gone in a few months and the Turkish Prime Minister and his Foreign Minister would be hailed for their foresight and courage but now it is they who are on the hot plate. Bashar is still in power and the army – the foot soldiers mostly Sunni Muslims – has not broken up on sectarian lines. The armed protégés of the outside governments are steadily being contained and driven out of the towns and the cities they have infiltrated. Fighting continues but external support for the armed groups seems to be waning. The US was already losing its appetite for direct intervention under the aegis of NATO and in the wake of the murder of the US ambassador to Tripoli by the very people whom the US used as auxiliaries to destroy the Libyan Jamahiriya and its founder, it can be ruled out altogether and not only because of fear of the Russian and Chinese reaction. Finally the US is taking a clear look at the people likely to inherit in Syria if Assad goes and it does not like what it sees.
The recent statement of a ‘rebel commander’ in Aleppo that 70 per cent of the population remains loyal to the government probably means that 90 to 95 per cent support the government and not just in Aleppo, where local Christians have been forming armed groups to defend themselves. It is only another strand of western involvement in Syria that politicians who wear their Christianity on their sleeve in Washington and London have completely ignored the evidence of the killing and intimidation of Syrian Christians. Only the Vatican has spoken out. Only recently have the sponsors of the armed groups – with the notable exceptions of Saudi Arabia and Qatar – begun looking askance at the savagery of the crimes they are committing, including the massacre of civilians and soldiers, rape, kidnapping and the murder of anyone identified as a ‘regime loyalist’, including police, postal workers, university professors and journalists. In Aleppo they stood their captives against a wall and riddled them with machine gun fire. Later they ‘executed’ 20 bound and gagged Syrian soldiers. In Al Bab – near Aleppo – they murdered postal workers before pitching their bodies from the roof of their building on to the steps below. In Homs the FSA’s Faruq Brigade maintained a special squad whose job it was to cut the throats of the group’s captives. Others have their heads cut off. All of this is justified by the crimes committed or alleged to have been committed by the ‘regime’. Any lines of demarcation between these groups have all but disappeared. There is tacit cooperation between all of them. There is no reason why any sane Syrian would want these people in their midst, especially as many are not even their countrymen but salafis/jihadis/takfiris – Pakistanis, Iraqis, Turks, Saudis, Chechens and Libyans – paid by Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Their role in the armed opposition has become increasingly dominant.
Syria has been in the gun sights of the US administration for decades. The country’s modern history bulges with attempts to disable it through assassination, attempts to overthrow the government, armed attack and occupation and most recently sanctions: no wonder Syria has become a byword for the mukharabat state. In the past two decades the calibration of the anti-Syrian policy has been in the hands of the neoconservatives. The Middle East was their prime target and Israel their prime beneficiary. The national security strategy announced by the George W. Bush administration was effectively a neoconservative writ for attacking other states if and when the US wanted, with Muslim countries top of the list. The rule book – beginning with the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia – was tossed out the window. After the invasion of Afghanistan the governments of seven states were set up for destruction: Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Iran, not necessarily in that order. Out of the ruins a new Middle East was to be born.
The strategy has been extended to include a wide range of activities befitting a ‘hyper’ state powerful enough to operate outside the law, including ‘extra judicial’ executions and drone attacks that have killed countless numbers of civilians as well as a handful of Islamic militants in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen. Osama bin Laden could have been arrested and put on trial but was shot dead in front of his wives and children. This was not an ‘extra judicial’ execution because there is no such thing. For an execution to be legal it must have been preceded by prosecution, trial and conviction but now prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner have all been rolled into one. Osama might have been responsible for murders but he also was murdered. The use of ‘extra judicial’ execution is no more than media apologetics for crime.
Heads of state are no more exempted from the law of the gun than anyone else but there was a time when they were removed covertly. Now it is done right out in the open. The Reagan administration’s failed attempt to murder Muammar al Qadhafi in the 1980s was finally followed by success last year. The oracular statement of Hillary Clinton in Tripoli a few days before his murder that ‘we’ are looking forward to the Libyan leader’s capture or killing was thus fulfilled. It will be remembered that she celebrated the occasion with a joke. The assassination of the US ambassador to Libya was a different matter altogether: she said it left her heartbroken – a technical impossibility, some would say, reminiscent of the old jazz line – ‘something beats in his chest/but it’s just a pump at best’. Certainly she has never been known to utter a word of regret, remorse or apology for the women and children who have been killed by US drone attacks in various countries. Her heart seems quite intact as far as they are concerned.
Clinton’s purpose-driven morality blows around like a weathervane in a high wind but she is no more than the symptom of an ugly moment in history which has produced Guantanamo, extraordinary rendition and torture, the massacre of civilians on the ground and from the air in Baghdad, the urinating on the bodies of their victims by US soldiers in Afghanistan, and even the trophy mutilation of their bodies. One cannot be separated from the other. Reinforcing the systemic place of these crimes, very rarely has anyone even been rapped on the wrist for them.
Overshadowing them all, of course, is the genocidal assault on Iraq, beginning in 1991, and continuing through more than a decade of sanctions and the second war of 2003, but not even for these most terrible crimes has anyone who committed them or was ultimately responsible for them been punished. Clinton and Obama arrived late but added Libya to the pile of corpses and in any case have adhered to the policies set by their neoconservative predecessors.
In this new overtly lawless world, Bashar al Assad is a prime target for assassination. Very possibly he was expected to be at the meeting targeted for bombing by the so-called Free Syrian Army in Damascus a few weeks ago. Usually governments feel obliged to abhor terrorism, especially when directed against the members of other governments, but this time the spokesman for the US State Department more or less said that the victims – the Defence Minister and two other senior figures in Assad’s inner circle – had it coming. Responsibility for this attack was claimed by Riad al Assad, the commander of the FSA who remarked: ‘God willing this will be the end of the regime. Hopefully Bashar will be next’. Mr Assad lives in southeastern Turkey under the protection of the Turkish state. The question is rhetorical but still has to be asked: has Turkey really reached the stage where its government gives sanctuary to a man who openly admits to organizing terrorist outrages in the capital city of another country and is looking forward to the murder of its head of state? The FSA leader’s fervent hope was later echoed in the assertion by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius’ remark that Bashar does not deserve to be on this earth. In the world we used to have this would have been called incitement to murder.
Under the UN Charter it is incumbent on all members to seek the peaceful resolution of conflicts that threaten international order. In Syria the US government and its allies have done the reverse. Through their intervention they have created a situation that threatens international order. In pursuit of their own agenda they have supported armed groups, imposed sanctions and agitated against the Syrian government through the UN Security Council and the Arab League.
Far from trying to bring the violence to an end they have prolonged it in the hope that it will eventually bring down the government in Damascus. They have blocked every attempt at a settlement that does not involve the precondition of ‘regime change’. Kofi Annan’s ceasefire could not work because the ‘friends’ were not prepared to compel the armed groups to lay down their arms at the same time as the Syrian army did. Having learned its lesson in Homs, where the tanks were pulled off the streets, only for the ‘rebels’ to take advantage of their withdrawal to reclaim lost positions, the Syrian government is not going to play this game again.
Further back, Saudi Arabia and Qatar torpedoed the Arab League monitors’ mission the moment it became clear it would come up with findings not to their liking. Its report was suppressed as was, more recently, the report resulting from the on-the-ground inquiry into the Houla massacre by the UN Supervisory Mission in Syria (UNSMS). It reached the UN Secretary-General’s office but not the Security Council and the mission’s mandate was terminated soon afterwards. The mission’s commander, Lieut-General Robert Mood, spoke at a press conference of conflicting evidence and it has to be assumed this was the reason for the report being buried. No solution has been allowed by the US that includes the participation of Iran. China and Russia have their own motives for supporting the government in Damascus but their position of opposition to outside intervention and support for negotiations without preconditions at least stands on firm moral and legal grounds. The main Syrian domestic opposition groups have now put forward an initiative for a negotiated settlement starting with the army and all armed factions laying down their weapons simultaneously. Having so far blocked every attempt at a settlement that does not meet their terms, will the ‘Friends of the Syrian People’ allow it to work?
In the campaign against Syria – or the Syrian ‘regime’ as the ‘friends’ would insist – Turkey’s role has been central. Until the beginning of last year the Turkish government had pursued policies of ‘soft power’ and ‘zero problems’ around all of Turkey’s borders. It now suits supporters of the government’s position to argue that the ‘zero problems’ policy had failed, when all the evidence suggests that it had been a resounding success. Outstanding issues were resolved, new trade agreements signed and borders opened up. Relations with the two countries with which Turkey has had the most difficult relationship – Syria and Iran – had never been better. The ‘zero problems’ policy will stand as Foreign Minister Davutoglu’s greatest achievement: its destruction will stand as his greatest failure.
Libya marked the beginning of Turkey’s policy turnaround. Erdogan initially responded by saying that military intervention anywhere in the Middle East would be a disaster but with a western triumph inevitable Turkey climbed on board. The spectacle thus arose of a government selling itself on its Muslim credentials coming in behind yet another western attack on yet another Muslim country. With Libya finished – another functional state turned into a dysfunctional state – the western-gulf state alliance then turned its attention to Syria. Erdogan and Davutoglu abruptly dropped their attempts to persuade Bashar al Assad to accept their advice (apparently to negotiate with the Muslim Brotherhood and even to bring it into government) and turned on him. The ‘brother’ of a few months before was now the worst man in the world.
The crisis broke when the two men were already fashioning an enlarged regional and global role for Turkey drawing strength from the connections of the Ottoman past and building on Erdogan’s popular standing across the Arab world following his blistering criticism of Israel. In what critics described as ‘neo Ottomanism’, the two men saw Turkey as a regional leader, role model and servant, as Davutoglu put it a few months ago. A new Middle East was being formed and they positioned themselves on the crest of the wave of reform, albeit in a very selective way because they had little or nothing to say about the need for change in the Gulf states.
Out of Touch
Had Erdogan and Davutoglu been properly advised, had they been more alert, more tuned in to the realities of the Middle East, they would have known that Bashar would not soon be gone. They would have known that he is popular with many Syrians and is seen by them as the best hope for reform. They would have known that confrontation with Syria would undermine relations with Iraq and Iran, as well as putting Turkey at odds with Russia and China. They would have known that these two powers would never allow a repeat of Libya and they might have guessed that the Kurds would take the opportunity of turmoil in Syria to strengthen their own position. They presumed to speak for the Syrian people when not even now is there any evidence that the ‘Syrian people’ in the mass support whom they support. The clearest evidence of what they want remains the referendum of February, when more than half the people on the electoral roll voted to remove the Baath party as the central pillar of society and state and bring in a multiparty system. Of course the changes did not go far enough: after half a century of authoritarian rule, the mukhabarat state was never going to be transformed overnight but what was on offer was certainly better than the mayhem sweeping across Syria with the encouragement of governments that have done nothing but harm to Arab interests over the last two centuries.
Cost of Conflict
The costs of Turkey’s confrontation with Syria have been great. An effective regional policy has been wrecked in favor of policy incoherence. The Kurds have taken advantage of the turmoil, with the PKK escalating its attacks and the Syrian Kurds tightening their grip on the region just south of the border, raising alarm in Ankara at the possibility of a Syrian Kurdish enclave being added to the nucleus of a future ‘Greater Kurdistan’. Bashar is being blamed when it is clear that the Syrian army is stretched to the limit and no longer capable of policing the border as before.
The Iraqi Kurds have been sucked into the vortex of this conflict, with Massoud Barzani convening a meeting of the Syrian Kurds – including a faction closely linked to the PKK – and advising them to settle their differences in the common interest and take what they can. Because of the close political and trade links established with the northern Iraqi Kurdish governorate – at the expense of relations with the actual government of the country – Erdogan was infuriated at Barzani’s endorsement of actions seen as inimical to Turkey’s security interests. Rubbing salt into Iraq’s wounded pride, Davutoglu chose the middle of this crisis to visit the contested city of Kirkuk.
In the southeast sanctions have killed off the cross-border trade with Syria that was the livelihood of merchants and traders in Hatay and Gaziantep provinces. The population of Hatay is more than 50 per cent Alevi and still connected to Alawis across the border by family ties. The Turkish Alevis are strongly opposed to their government’s policies and do not want the ‘refugees’ (formally the ‘guests’ of the Turkish government), the bearded jihadis or the agents of foreign governments in their midst. They see Bashar as the head of a secular regime which is the best guarantor of minority rights and they regard the prospect of a Muslim Brotherhood-type government of the kind apparently favored by Erdogan with absolute anathema. Their reaction to the situation has not been helped by Erdogan’s intermittent political point scoring at Alawi expense. The focus on Hatay revives the question of how the province came to be a Turkish possession in the first place: breaking the terms of its mandate over Syria, the French government handed the region to Turkey in 1938 as a placatory measure before the onset of the Second World War. As for the Turkish people in the mass, the most recent poll indicates that the majority do not support military intervention in Syria. Whether they are aware of how deeply their country already is involved is another matter.
Tens of thousands of Syrians are now pouring out of their country to seek refuge in Turkey, Iraq and Jordan. They are another consequence of the decision to prolong the fighting in Syria rather than help end it. Here it should be remembered that Syria took in half a million Palestinian refugees in 1948 and more than a million Iraqis after the US-led invasion of 2003 created the greatest refugee tragedy in the Middle East since 1948. Now it is Iraq that is taking in Syrian refugees. Refugees of a different category in Syria include the families of the 100,000 Syrians who were driven off the Golan Heights by Israeli forces in 1967.
Although everyone in the collective calling itself ‘The Friends of the Syrian People’ is playing their part, the role of Saudi Arabia and Qatar – the paymasters - is especially pernicious because it is based on a sectarian reordering of the Middle East, with Shi’ism dammed behind a wall of Sunni governments. Saudi Arabia is one of the most reactionary states in the world, not just the Middle East. Qatar is a liberal version of Saudi Arabia but still has no political parties, no parliament, no unions and a system of indentured foreign labor that has been likened to slavery and even bears the same name as that given to the columns of slaves trudging across Africa in the 19th century (the kafil, the name of the wooden collar yoking the slaves together.)
The unprecedented domestic success of Turkey’s Justice and Development Party government has now been followed by unprecedented folly in foreign affairs. It needs to get out of this mess without delay, a conclusion that has undoubtedly already been reached within the party. Turkey needs to get back to where it was and begin the process of repairing the damage done to relations with near neighbors, beginning with Iraq and Iran because it will be a long time before relations with Syria can be returned to an even keel. The whole Syrian venture will have to be wound down. The SNC will have to be abandoned (but it has been a waste of time and money from the beginning anyway) and the commander of the FSA asked to seek lodgings elsewhere. Whatever the support being given to the armed men it will have to be dried up. This is going to create further complications but they will have to be faced. There will be loss of face but that is a problem for the individual politicians and advisers concerned: the interests of the country are the central issue and in any case, loss of face does not even begin to compare with the loss of more lives that will be the only result of persevering with a policy that has failed.
- Jeremy Salt is an associate professor of Middle Eastern history and politics at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey.
- Who supplies anti-aircraft missiles to Syrian rebels? (english.ruvr.ru)
This would not be the first time that the Israelis have endeavoured to destroy historical and cultural artifacts in order to bolster their territorial claims and to eradicate inconvenient elements of the past.
In 2003, in an article headed “Pillaging 7000 Years Of Iraq History No Accident” sub-heading “The Sacking Of Iraq’s Museums – US Wages War Against Culture And History”, Patrick Martin wrote in Rense.com that
“US claims to have been taken by surprise by the ransacking of cultural facilities in Baghdad, Mosul and other cities are not credible. Such a tragedy was not only predictable, it was specifically warned against. . . . Attacking the cultural resources that connect the Iraqi people to 7,000 years of history is part of the process of systematically destroying their national identity.” (Emphasis added – link to full article).
A little-known event in 1948 during the “Naqba”, was the Israeli theft of books and manuscripts.
Journalist Arwa Aburawa, writing in “Sabbah Report” two years ago, refers to
“the systematic looting of more than 60,000 Palestinian books by Israeli forces and the attempted destruction of Palestinian culture… Between May 1948 and February 1949, librarians from the Jewish National Library and Hebrew University Library entered the desolate Palestinian homes of west Jerusalem and seized 30,000 books, manuscripts and newspapers alone. These cultural assets, which had belonged to elite and educated Palestinian families, were then “loaned” to the National Library where they have remained until now.” (See “The great book robbery of 1948″ here)
Not only does Israel wish to achieve complete domination of the Middle East, it also wants to destroy the history, the culture, and the very identity of its neighbours and those it occupies.
We can be sure that an attack on Iran, one of the oldest civilisations in the world with a massive treasure-trove of historical and cultural artifacts, will include widespread theft and destruction as was the case with Iraq.
The United States, Britain, and all other backers and enablers of “gallant little Israel” are fully complicit in these crimes against humanity.
PRESS-TV | August 11th, 2012
Clashes continue in Syria’s largest city Aleppo between the army and foreign-backed militant groups. This time the Aleppo Castle was the target, but the army managed to repel the assaults, and declared the historical building as safe and intact.
Castle of Aleppo, is a large medieval fortified palace in the centre of the old city of Aleppo. It is considered to be one of the oldest and largest castles in the world. Usage of the Citadel hill dates back at least to the middle of the 3rd millennium BC.
Foreign backed armed groups and supporting media outlets emphasized on controlling the castle repeatedly. Press TV crew headed to the castle, the tension was high, Syrian soldiers were almost everywhere fully geared, two tanks on the sides of the roads and a commander waiting for us.
Upon arriving the archaeological building, the traces of mortars were imprinted on the Defensive bridge, the main gate was Booby-trapped by the armed groups upon attempting to penetrate the historic fortifications and several Syrian soldering were assigned to protect the castle being under hours of attack by the armed groups.
Syrians believe this war against Syria, has already targeted all components of Syrian society, and now foreign backed armed groups and their sponsoring countries are after Syrian 7000 years history.
A “Consultative Meeting on Syria” in Tehran aims to promote a Syrian political solution and establish a counterweight to the self-styled “Friends of Syria.”
Iran’s position on Syria is unchanged: the crisis can only have a Syrian solution, based on dialogue between the warring parties. It aims to persuade as many countries as possible to support that option, and establish an alternative to the coalition of states complicit in the bloodletting in Syria.
Iran is looking ahead to the aftermath of what it expects to be the Syrian regime’s “victory” in Aleppo. Once that is achieved, Tehran believes, the powers backing the rival sides in Syria will have no alternative but to negotiate.
Turkey’s position is crucial in this regard, as it would clearly have a major impact if it opted to intervene directly in the battle for Aleppo. This in turn explains the sudden and sharp deterioration in relations between Ankara and Tehran, with the latter threatening to freeze trade with the former.
The Iranians have been preparing for today’s “Consultative Meeting on Syria,” hosted by the Foreign Ministry, for around two weeks, according to Iranian sources. Their contacts focused on states that are “not directly complicit” in the Syrian crisis, in addition to Turkey, which was also invited.
The sources said outgoing UN/Arab League envoy Kofi Annan was invited too, in the hope that he could be persuaded not to abandon his mission, but decided, apparently under pressure from various parties, not to attend.
On the eve of the conference, 20 countries were due to send delegates to the gathering, including Russia, China, Turkey, Pakistan and India, and seven Arab states (Iraq, Algeria, Tunisia, Mauritania, Kuwait, the UAE, and Oman). Eight countries were to be represented by their foreign ministers, the others at a less senior level.
Lebanon decided not to take part in line with its policy of non-involvement in Syrian affairs. Iraq was to send high-level delegates other than Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, who “represents the American face of the Iraqi regime,” according to the sources. But Iraqi diplomatic efforts led to an agreement that would have Zebari attend along with the minister of national security. The sources added that many of the countries invited had – like Annan, who initially agreed to attend – come under heavy pressure to stay away, or at least to lower the level of their representation.
The Iranian sources said the principal objective of the conference is to “bring the Syrian opposition and regime together around the negotiating table, with the aim of arriving at a Syrian solution to the crisis in Syria.”
They said Iran had obtained undertakings from “a fair number” of Syrian opposition groups to support such talks, as well as the endorsement of President Bashar al-Assad, who conferred in Damascus earlier this week with the secretary of Iran’s National Security Council, Saeed Jalili.
“We want this conference to be a counter to the Enemies of Syria (Friends of Syria) group, which has been promoting militarization, violence and sectarianism,” they said. “The hope is to persuade the maximum number of states to encourage and take part in an intra-Syrian solution.”
The thinking in Tehran is that the Syrian regime is bound to prevail in the battle of Aleppo, and that “after that, the time will come for negotiations between the forces that wanted to destroy the Syrian state and bring down the regime, and the states that want to make a political solution succeed and find a Syrian way out of the crisis.” Thursday’s conference is part of a process of “preparing the ground for such negotiations.” [...]
It is significant that close US allies and supporters of the Syrian rebels – Turkey, Kuwait, Oman, the UAE and Tunisia – were to attend the Tehran conference. “That is the strongest evidence of the opposition front cracking, and of its willingness to enter into a dialogue once the dust has settled on the Battle of Aleppo,” they said. However, it seems that diplomatic pressure succeeded in the end in keeping Kuwait and UAE from participating. … Full article