In the past week, Syrian opposition groups have issued two contrasting appeals to the international community. On Saturday 28 July, the Syrian National Council demanded new and better weaponry for the insurgents battling the Bashar al-Assad regime. “We want weapons that would stop tanks and jet fighters,” SNC chief Abdul-Basset Sieda told a news conference in Abu Dhabi. Two days earlier, at the Community of Sant’Egidio in Rome, representatives of 10 opposition organisations asked the world to assist Syria in another way: forcing both sides to reach a peaceful resolution of the conflict. Their joint statement concluded: “We cannot accept Syria being transformed into a theatre of regional and international conflict. We believe the international community has the strength and the necessary ability to find a consensus that would be the basis of a political solution to the current dramatic crisis, based on the imposition of a ceasefire, the withdrawal of the military, the release of detainees and the kidnapped, the return of refugees, emergency assistance for the victims, a real global negotiation that excludes no one and a process that would be completed with real national reconciliation based on justice”.
The choice confronting the world is not between the Assad regime and the opposition, but between two oppositions. One seeks international military intervention to enable it to overthrow the regime. The other strives for change through civil disobedience and dialogue and rejects military interference by foreign powers whose hostility to Syria pre-dates their recent discovery of the country’s woes.
This conflict was born as a peaceful rebellion evolving into a popular revolution. Violent suppression of unarmed demonstrators led some opponents to take up arms in defence of the right to protest and demand change. The armed men were a minority among dissidents who recoiled from the despoliation of their country that would inevitably accompany a violent uprising, yet they gained the ascendancy by the force of their actions and the international support they gained for their choice of the rifle over the banner.
As casualties mounted, advocates of a military solution dominated both the regime and the opposition camps. The centre, inevitably, could not hold. Battles that had been limited to border zones, where rebels were easily supplied from Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, spread to the rest of the country. Damascus and Aleppo, whose populations had for the most part either supported the regime or opposed it without resort to weapons, have become in the past three weeks theatres of bloody confrontation.
The rebels, advised by intelligence officers from western countries working in Turkey and Lebanon, took outlying neighbourhoods of Damascus. The regime, inevitably, used all the means at its disposal to drive them out and retake those areas. The next target of the rebels’ strategy was Aleppo, where the pattern is repeating itself: the rebels established themselves in the suburbs, residents fled and the regime returns with infantry, armour and air power to “restore” order. In the meantime, the United Nations estimates that 150,000 Syrians have fled the country and as many as 20,000 have died – on both sides, to be sure, but most casualties are those in the middle who are cursing both houses.
How did Syria reach this point, and where is it going? Neither side can lay claim to the legitimacy of election by popular mandate. No one voted in a fair election for either Bashar al-Assad, who inherited his father’s mantle as if Syria were a monarchy, or the Free Syrian Army militias with the Syrian National Council.
There are wars, and there are civil wars. Before the Red Cross withdrew from Syria last week, it declared this was a civil war. This means it is no longer a rebellion, but a battle for power between contending factions. Neither the Free Syrian Army nor the government recognises the other. Both refuse to speak to each other. Their external benefactors (for the regime, Russia, Iran and Iraq; for the opposition, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the US, France and Britain) are encouraging their intransigence.
For outsiders, whose own countries will not be the chessboard on which this game is played, war makes more political capital than the more subtle and difficult route of negotiation and compromise. Yet which is more likely to preserve Syria, its secularism, its economy and the healthy relations among its communities – civil war, as in Spain, Lebanon and Yugoslavia or the example of Nelson Mandela meeting the enforcers of apartheid? When the British government and the Irish Republican Army swallowed pride and distaste to negotiate seriously, rather than win outright, the war in Northern Ireland ended.
The rebels receive foreign support, funds and weapons, as the regime says. And, as the opposition says, the regime has blood on its hands. Yet to whom will they speak if not to each other? Both claim to be Syrians fighting for Syria. Call their bluff. Let Russia bring Assad kicking and screaming to the table, while the US and its allies do the same with the opposition. Is that course really less realistic, or less helpful to Syria, than all-out war?
Listen, for a moment at least, to the people who signed the Rome statement. They include the Democratic Forum’s Michel Kilo, a respected writer from northern Syria who did his first prison stretch under Assad’s father 30 years ago. When he returned after years in exile, he landed back in prison. Yet he clings to the nonviolence that he believes will save Aleppo and other cities from destruction. Another is Riad Draar of the Islamic Democratic Current. Five years in a Syrian prison for “inciting sectarian strife” and “spreading false news” did not turn him to violence. They and the other signatories have credibility among Syrians aware of the both the regime’s and the insurgents’ flaws. One sentence in the Rome statement resonates with Syrians who have been expelled from their homes or seen those they love killed by either side: “The military solution is holding the Syrian people hostage and does not offer a political solution capable of responding to the people’s deepest aspirations.”
[Comment: This call from Rome includes members and parties of National Coordination Body for Democratic Change – NCB]
Sunday 29 July 2012
Protests continue over the Kurdish area in Syria.
“We cannot accept Syria being transformed into a theatre of regional and international conflict. We believe the international community has the strength and the necessary ability to find a consensus that would be the basis of a political solution to the current dramatic crisis, based on the imposition of a ceasefire, the withdrawal of the military, the release of detainees and the kidnapped, the return of refugees, emergency assistance for the victims, a real global negotiation that excludes no one and a process that would be completed with real national reconciliation based on justice”. [See Guardian report below]
BBC Wyre Davies interviewed Salih Muslim, PYD leader #Syria #Kurdistan http://t.co/6gNT0lII
Erdogan V the Kurds by Eliza Marcus http://nationalinterest.org/
Syrian Observatory for Human Rights: Final report on the documented deaths for Sunday 29/7/2012: More than 150 Syrians were killed.
72 Unarmed Civilians:
-In Homs Province 5 civilians were killed. 2 were killed in the city by bombardment on the neighbourhoods of old Homs and Bab Sba’. 2 civilians were killed in the Talbisa town, 1 of them was killed by bombardment on the town, the other’s body was dug out of the rubble caused by the 10-day bombardment on the town. A civilian was killed by mortar shells on the town of al-Qusair, Reef Homs.
-In Aleppo Province 7 civilians were killed. 3 were killed in the city: 1 was killed by regime forces in the al-Farkan neighbourhood. 2 civilians, 1 a yet unidentified child, were killed by the bombardment on the neighbourhoods of al-Zabdiya and al-Ansari. 2 children were shot by unknown gunmen in the Hayan town, Reef Aleppo. 2 died of wounds they received earlier 1 was wounded by bombardment on the Tala’ran town, while the other was shot by regime forces in the Manbaj city, Reef Aleppo.
-In Lattakia Province 3 civilians were killed while returning from the dawn prayers by a regime forces’ ambush in the Dourin village.
-In Idlib Province 14 civilians were killed. 2 were killed in the city. A civilian’s corpse was found after he was kidnapped by unknown gunmen, the other was shot by regime forces. 2 killed by bombardment on the Heish town after midnight Saturday-Sunday. A civilians from the al-Taman’a town was killed by bombardment on the al-A’amriya neighbourhood in the city. A civilian from the city of Ma’aret al-Nu’man was shot by regime forces. A civilian from the town of Jousef was shot by sniper fire in the al-Ma’adamiya town in Reef Dimashq. 1 was shot by regime forces in the al-Habit town. A child was martyred by sniper fire in the al-Rami village, Reef Idlib. 1 died of wounds he received earlier by mortar shells that fell on the Ma’rshourin town, Reef Idlib. 4 were summarily executed in the village of Fayloun that witnessed clashes between regime forces and rebel fighters, we were only able to document the names of 2 of the names.
-In Dera’a 6 civilians were killed. 2 were killed in the city, 1 was killed by bombardment while the other was shot by sniper fire. A civilian from the al-Faki’ village was shot by a military checkpoint in the Ankhel town. 3 were shot by regime forces by the Syrian-Jordanian borders while they were transporting civilians to Jordan.
-In Reef Dimashq 29 civilians were killed. 2 were shot by sniper fire, 1 of them is a rebel fighter, in the towns of A’rbin and al-Hameh. 21 corpses were found in the town of al-Ma’adamiya, 1 of which was summarily executed, the other 20 others were killed by the bombardment on the town yesterday. 1 died of wounds he received earlier by regime forces’ gunshots in the al-Blaliya village. 3 were killed in the al-Buwaida village, 1 killed by mortar shells, while the other 2 were summarily executed. 1 from the city of Saqba died under torture after he was detained. 1 was shot by regime forces in the al-Tal city, Reef Dimashq.
-In Deir Izzor Province 6 civilians were killed. 3 were killed in the Deir Izzor city, including an 11 year old child, by the bombardment on the al-Sheikh Yasin, al-A’rdi and al-Kanamat neighbourhoods. A child was martyred by bombardment on the town of al-Shahil, Reef Deir Izzor. 2 were killed, including a woman, by mortar shells that fell on the al-Hsainiya area on the Deir Izzor-al-Hasaka road.
-In Hama Province 2 civilians were killed. 1 was killed by pro-regime militants in Sahl al-Ghab, Reef Hama. 1 was shot by regime forces after they raided his house in the al-Dbagha neighbourhood, Hama City.
6 corpses were found in the city of Aleppo, their identities are yet unknown.
Information was received that tens of burned corpses were found in the al-Sheikh al-Maskin town, Reef Dera’a, which witnessed violent clashes yesterday.
30 Rebel Fighters:
-In Homs Province 5 rebel fighters were killed. 2 were killed in the city when the engineers syndicate building was attacked. 3 fighters were killed during clashes with regime forces in the Talbisa town, Reef Homs.
– In Aleppo Province 11 rebel fighters were killed. 5 were killed during clashes with regime forces in A’ndan, Reef Aleppo. 6 rebel fighters were killed in the city during clashes in the neighbourhoods of Salah al-Din and al-Furqan.
-In Lattakia Province a fighter died of wounds he received yesterday during clashes in the Dourin village.
-In Idlib Province a rebel fighter was killed during clashes with regime forces by the Syrian-Turkish borders.
– In Dera’a Province 11 rebel fighters were killed. A fighter was killed during clashes in the city.10 rebel fighters were killed by gunshots and bombardment on the town of al-Sheikh al-Maskin that witnessed violent clashes.
-In Deir Izzor Province a fighter was killed during clashes with regime forces in the al-A’rdi neighbourhood.
A defected soldier was killed during clashes with regime forces in Reef Aleppo.
At least 45 regime forces were killed during clashes and the targeting of centers and patrols in the provinces of al-Hasaka, Aleppo, Hama, Idlib, Homs and Dera’a
[local time] 21:39 The United Nations said Sunday that 200,000 people have fled the Syrian city of Aleppo in two days as President Bashar al-Assad’s forces step up their assault.
20:50 Sunday’s death toll in Syria has increased to 114, Al-Jazeera quoted activists as saying.
20:32 Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood denounced on Sunday President Bashar al-Assad, his allies Iran and Russia, and the international community for its “silence” and failure to protect civilians.
19:54 Sunday’s death toll in Syria has increased to 95, activists said according to Al-Arabiya.
18:39 Sunday’s toll in Syria has increased to 88, Al-Arabiya quoted activists as saying.
18:28 Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi said that what was happening in Aleppo amounted to war crimes, Al-Arabiya reported.
18:27 Syrian troops on Sunday killed two men as they tried to cross the border into neighboring Jordan, the head of a leading charity working to support Syrian refugees said.
17:58 Syrian border guards killed a large number of “terrorists” who attempted to cross into the country from neighboring Turkey on Sunday, the official SANA news agency said.
17:36 Aleppo, the latest battleground in Syria’s 16-month uprising, will be the Syrian army’s “graveyard,” said Colonel Abdel Jabbar al-Oqaidi, the head of the rebels in the city.
16:28 Almost half of those killed in Syria since the outbreak of the anti-regime revolt in March 2011 have died since a failed UN-Arab League truce was due to come into force, a monitoring group said on Sunday.
16:04 One of the abductors of the 11 Lebanese Shiite pilgrims said on Sunday that the abducted men will soon reunite with their families.
15:09 Syrian forces killed 21 people in Daraa’s town of Sheikh Maskeen, Al-Arabiya quoted activists as saying.
14:54 Sunday’s death toll in Syria has risen to 34 people, Al-Arabiya television quoted the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights as saying.
14:51 More than 12,000 Syrians fleeing the violence in their home country have sought refuge in Algeria, a source close to the Interior Ministry said on Sunday.
14:02 Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said on Sunday that the rebels in Aleppo “will definitely be defeated,” AFP reported.
13:49 Jordan on Sunday opened its first official refugee camp to help host tens of thousands of Syrians who have fled the mounting violence in its northern neighbor.
13:37 Syria’s main opposition group called on Sunday on the UN Security Council to hold an emergency session to discuss the fighting in the northern city of Aleppo, saying that the regime is planning “massacres.”
11:08 Syrian forces shelled Daraa’s Al-Harak, Khirbet Ghazali and Al-Yadouda, Al-Jazeera television reported.
11:07 Syrian forces killed 21 people on Sunday, most of them in Edleb and near Damascus, Al-Jazeera television quoted the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights as saying.
9:58 Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem was to visit Tehran on Sunday for talks with Iranian officials, the Iranian Foreign Ministry said in a short statement.
9:23 International envoy for Syria Kofi Annan has said he feared an “imminent battle” in Aleppo, the country’s economic capital largely held by rebels.
9:17 Syrian forces shelled Homs’ neighborhood of Al-Khalidiya, in addition to Rastan and Houla, Al-Jazeera television reported.
7:51 Syrian rebels staved off a counterattack by regime forces in Aleppo on Saturday amid growing concern about the risks of reprisals against civilians in the country’s commercial capital.
Shelling and gunfire have again shaken Aleppo as Syrian government forces battle rebels for control of the country’s largest city.
A BBC correspondent who is just outside Aleppo says heavy fighting is reported in the city centre near the old fort but this cannot be verified.
Syria’s foreign minister said on Sunday that the rebels would be defeated.
The head of the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) has called for foreign states to arm rebel fighters.
“We want weapons that would stop tanks and jet fighters. That is what we want,” Abdulbaset Sayda was quoted by the AFP news agency as saying at a news conference in Abu Dhabi.
He urged Arab “brothers and friends to support the Free [Syrian] Army”.
Wealthy Gulf states pledged in April to pay the salaries of rebel fighters, while the US state department has acknowledged sending non-lethal aid (such as communications equipment) to the opposition.
Shelling has again been reported in the Salah al-Din neighbourhood, in the south west of Aleppo.The town of Azaz, north of Aleppo, was badly damaged by fighting
The BBC’s Ian Pannell, who was inside Aleppo on Saturday, says government troops are trying to push into rebel-held neighbourhoods.
Vehicles carrying civilians have been steadily streaming out of the city.
Civilians who remain in Aleppo face power cuts and food shortages.
Our correspondent saw a bakery open for the first time in 24 hours which was quickly surrounded by people clamouring for bread and saying they had nothing else to eat.
The rebels claim to have repelled the government offensive which began in earnest on Saturday, but our correspondent says this cannot be verified.
Syria would defeat the rebels in Aleppo and the conspiracy against it, Foreign Minister Walid Moualem said.
He was speaking on a visit to Iran, Syria’s closest ally in the region.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 29 people were killed in Aleppo on Saturday – among 168 to die across the country throughout the day. The figures cannot be verified.
The total number of people killed since the Syrian anti-government uprising began in March 2011 now stands at more than 20,000, the Observatory says.
RefugeesThe BBC’s Lyse Doucet sent this image of the tents which will shelter Syrian refugees at Zaatari
Meanwhile, Jordan is opening its first official refugee camp for Syrians fleeing the fighting.
The camp at Zaatari, about 11km (seven miles) from the border with Syria, will have room for 10,000 refugees to start with but could grow to 100,000 if needed.
Jordan says 2,000 refugees are crossing the border from Syria each day – the UN says the total figure now stands at 150,000.
The BBC’s Lyse Doucet, at Zaatari, says the new camp will ease pressure on existing transit camps where overcrowding has been causing tension between refugees and with local communities.
6:45pm EDT: (Reuters) – Syrian troops said they had recaptured a district of Syria’s largest city Aleppo, after heavy fighting against rebels who remain in control of swathes of the commercial hub despite being pushed out of the capital Damascus.
The past two weeks have seen forces of President Bashar al-Assad struggle as never before to maintain their grip on the country after a major rebel advance into the two main cities and a July 18 explosion that killed four top security officials.
Government forces have succeeded in imposing their grip on Damascus but rebel fighters gained control of parts of Aleppo, a city of 2.5 million people, where Reuters journalists have toured neighborhoods dotted with Free Syrian Army checkpoints flying black and white Islamist banners.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said attacks on Aleppo were putting the nail in the coffin of Assad’s government, showing he lacks the legitimacy to rule.
“If they continue this kind of tragic attack on their own people in Aleppo, I think it ultimately will be a nail in Assad’s own coffin,” Panetta said, speaking to reporters at the start of a weeklong trip to the Middle East and North Africa.
“What Assad has been doing to his own people and what he continues to do to his own people makes clear that his regime is coming to an end. It’s lost all legitimacy,” he said, adding, “It’s no longer a question of whether he’s coming to an end, it’s when.
Fighting for the past several days has focused on the Salaheddine district in the southwest of Aleppo, where government troops have been backed by helicopter gunships.
Rebel fighters, patrolling opposition districts in flat-bed trucks flying green-white-and-black “independence” flags, said they were holding off Assad’s forces in Salaheddine. However, the government said it had pushed them out.
“Complete control of Salaheddine has been (won back) from those mercenary gunmen,” an unidentified military officer told Syrian state television late on Sunday. “In a few days safety and security will return to the city of Aleppo.”
Reuters journalists in the city were not able to approach the district after nightfall on Sunday to verify whether rebels had been pushed out. The pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human rights said fighting was continuing there.
The government also declared victory on Sunday in the battle for the capital, which the rebels assaulted in force two weeks ago but have been repulsed in unprecedented fighting.
“Today I tell you, Syria is stronger … In less than a week they were defeated (in Damascus) and the battle failed,” Foreign Minister Walid Moualem said on a visit to Iran, Assad’s main ally in the region.
“So they moved on to Aleppo and I assure you, their plots will fail.”
Rebel-held areas of Aleppo visited by Reuters were almost empty. Fighters were basing themselves in houses.
Cars entering one Aleppo district came under fire from snipers and a Reuters photographer saw three bodies lying in the street. Unable to move them to hospital for fear of shelling, residents had placed frozen water bottles on two of the corpses to slow their decomposition in the baking heat.
A burnt out tank lay in the street, while nearby another one had been captured intact and covered in tarpaulin. Burnt cars could be seen in many streets, some marked with “shabbiha” – a reference to pro-Assad militiamen.
Near the centre of town, most shops were shuttered, some with “Strike” painted over them. The only shop doing business was a bakery selling subsidized bread, where the queue stretched around the block.
U.N. Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos said 200,000 people had fled the fighting in and around Aleppo in the last two days, and the violence across Syria made it hard for humanitarian agencies to reach them.
“Many people have sought temporary shelter in schools and other public buildings in safer areas. They urgently need food, mattresses and blankets, hygiene supplies and drinking water.”
Assad’s ruling structure draws strongly on his Alawite minority sect, an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam, while his opposition is drawn largely from the Sunni Muslim majority, backed by Sunni leaders who rule nearly all other Arab states.
That has raised fears the 16-month conflict could spread across the Middle East, where a sectarian divide between Sunnis and Shi’ites has been at the root of violence in Iraq, Lebanon, Bahrain and elsewhere.
Shi’ite Iran demonstrated its firm support for Assad by hosting his foreign minister. At a joint news conference with Moualem, Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi rebuked the West and Arab states for holding the “illusion” that Assad could be easily be replaced in a managed transition.
In Damascus, many residents have fled fighting in the outskirts for relative safety in the heart of the capital.
In the centre, shops open only between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., food prices have soared and no one dares walk outside after dusk, even in the holy month of Ramadan when streets are normally packed late into the night with people breaking the fast.
“To begin with I was with the regime, for sure,” said Ahmed, from one of the southern suburbs where the army, backed by helicopters and tanks, launched its counter-offensive.
“But now, no, the regime must go. Take what they want with them, but they must go.”
The battle for Aleppo is a decisive test of the government’s ability to put down the revolt after the July 18 explosion killed four of its top security officials and wrecked the Assad family’s image of untouchable might.
It has committed huge military resources to Aleppo after losing control of outlying rural areas and some border crossings with Turkey and Iraq.
(Additional reporting by Yara Bayoumy and Dominic Evans in Beirut, Yeganeh Torbati in Dubai and a reporter in Damascus who cannot be identified for security reasons; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Sophie Hares)
Jordan opens camp to deal with more Syrian refugees: ZAATARI, Jordan – Jordan braced on Sunday for an expected new influx of refugees from the fighting in Syria by opening a camp with 2,000 tents to accommodate them near the border…
Syria SNC asks allies for heavy arms: DUBAI – The Syrian opposition appealed on Sunday for its foreign allies to provide with heavy weapons to fight President Bashar al-Assad’s “killing machine” and said it would soon start talks on forming a transitional government to replace him.
The choice confronting the world is not between the Assad regime and the opposition, but between two opposition
‘How did Syria reach this point, and where is it going? Neither side can lay claim to the legitimacy of election by popular mandate.’ Illustration: Andrzej Krause