Thursday 23 August 2012
Syrian Observatory for Human Rights: [9.30pm UK time]-Approximately 130 Syrians have been killed so far today (Thursday 23/8/2012). The dead include 62 unarmed civilians, 24 unidentified bodies, 6 rebel fighters, 3 defected soldiers, and no less than 31 members of the Syrian regular forces.
-In Reef Dimashq 18 civilians were killed. 10 civilians were killed in the town of Mou’adamiya, 1 was killed by a sniper, 9 bodies were
-In Damascus 12 civilians were killed. 1 civilian from Kafarsouseh was killed by a military checkpoint by Basateen Kafarsouseh. The bodies of 10 civilians were found in a room in Basateen Kafarsouseh, the SOHR has documented only 3 names so far. A civilian from the Shaghour neighbourhood was killed by regime fire.
-In Dera’a province 9 civilians were killed. A woman died from wounds caused when regime forces stormed the town of Tafas several days ago. The bodies of 6 civilians were found in the town of al-Hirak, they were killed by shots at point-blank range; 2 civilians were killed by the bombardment of the town today.
-In Deir Izzor province 9 civilians were killed. 5 in the city of Deir Izzor, 2 by the bombardment and 3 by a sniper. 1 civilian was killed by the bombardment on the al-Hseiniya village. 1 from the town of al-Mheimadiya was shot by regime forces in the al-Dahadeel neighbourhood of Damascus. 2 civilians were killed by the bombardment on the city of al-Mayadeen.
-In Idlib province 8 killed. 2 civilians were killed by the gunfire and bombardment during the storming of Ariha. 1 civilian (woman) was killed by regime fire in the city of Idlib. 4 children, all under the age of 16, were killed by the bombardment on the village of al-Dana. 1 civilian was killed by the bombardment on the town of Sarmin.
-In Aleppo province 6 civilians were killed. 2 by a sniper in the Salaheddin neighbourhood of Aleppo. A child was killed by the bombardment on the Bustan al-Basha neighbourhood; the bodies of 2 teens were found in the Itha’a neighbourhood, the neighbourhood was bombarded several days ago. 1 civilian was killed by the bombardment on the town of al-Abizmo.
***17 unidentified bodies have been found in the neighborhoods of Bustan el-Basha and Salaheddin, city of Aleppo. 7 unidentified bodies were found in Reef Aleppo***
-In Hama province 5 civilians were killed by the regime bombardment on the town of Sheizer.
-In Homs province 4 civilians were killed. One of which was killed by regime gunfire during his return from Lebanon. 1 civilian from the town of Qaryatein was killed by torture. 1 was killed by regime gunfire in the town of Talkalakh. 1 civilian died suffering from injuries sustained in the old neighbourhood of Homs.
**Statements were received by the SOHR that report tens of casualties and injuries in the ranks of the rebels, and in the civilian population, as a result of the bombardment on the city of Ariha, which also witnessed clashes between regime and rebel forces**
6 Rebel fighters:
Aleppo province: 2 rebels killed. A rebel fighter was killed during clashes in Salaheddin. A rebel fighter was killed during clashes in Saif al-Dawla.
Dara’a province: 3 rebel fighters from the towns of al-Najih, Inkhil and Mahja were killed during clashes in Dareyya, Reef Dimashq.
Deir Izzor province: A rebel fighter was killed during clashes in the city of al-Boukamal.
3 defected soldiers were killed during clashes in Reef Dera’a
No less than 31 members of the Syrian armed forces were killed by attacks on checkpoints, explosions targeting vehicles, and by clashes in the provinces of Idlib, Aleppo, Damascus, Deir Izzor and Reef Dimashq
[local time] 22:05 Syrian forces shelled the town of Moadamiya in the district of Damascus, Al-Arabiya television quoted activists as saying.
22:04 Syrian forces shelled the Damascus areas of Ain Tarma, Arbeen and Zamalka, Al-Arabiya television quoted activists as saying.
21:56 Thursday’s death toll in Syria has risen to 181 people; most of them killed in and around Damsacus, Al-Arabiya television quoted activists as saying.
19:50 The Syrian army encircled and shelled large swathes of Damascus on Thursday, in what activists and monitors termed a renewed bid to crush the insurgency in the capital “once and for all.”
18:52 Clashes broke out between Syrian regime forces and rebels in Al-Thalatheen street in Damascus, Al-Arabiya television quoted activists as saying.
18:42 Clashes erupted between Syrian regime forces and rebels in the areas of Al-Qadam and Al-Asali in Damascus, Al-Arabiya television quoted activists as saying.
18:37 Thursday’s death toll in Syria has risen to 144 people, Al-Arabiya television quoted activists as saying.
18:33 Syrian regime forces raided a hospital in Daraa’s Al-Harak and arrested wounded people, Al-Arabiya television quoted activists a saying.
17:22 At least 24,495 people have been killed in violence in Syria since the outbreak of an anti-regime revolt in March last year turned into a bloody conflict, a Britain-based watchdog said.
17:01 Syria was ready to cooperate with new UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, the deputy foreign minister said on Thursday, adding he hoped the veteran Algerian diplomat would help pave the way for “national dialogue.”
16:03 An AFP feature piece details how a group of rebel fighters in Syria have banded together to create a new “brigade” to fight the regime.
16:00 The Syrian army recaptured three Christian neighborhoods in the historic heart of Aleppo from rebels Thursday but fierce clashes continued in other parts of the main northern city, residents said.
15:50 Syrian forces committed a “massacre” in the town of Moadamiya near Damascus that left 21 people dead, Al-Arabiya television reported.
15:09 Thursday’s death toll in Syria has risen to 100 people, Al-Jazeera television quoted activists as saying.
15:09 Syrian military planes crossed into Iraqi airspace on Thursday in order to carry out air strikes against the border town of Albu Kamal, which is held by rebel forces.
14:32 Thursday’s death toll in Syria reached 90 people, Al-Jazeera quoted activists as saying. 13:24 Nine people who were summarily executed were discovered in Mouaddamiyyat al-Sham in the Damascus district, Al-Jazeera reported.
13:02 Casualties were reported in the shelling of the town of Ariha in Edleb, Al-Jazeera reported on Thursday.
11:22 Syrian security forces killed 52 people on Thursday mostly in Damascus, Al-Arabiya quoted activists as saying.
11:02 Syrian security forces’ shelling killed 15 people in Daraya in the Damascus district, Al-Jazeera reported on Thursday.
8:49 MORNING LEADER: Syrian forces backed by helicopter gunships and tanks launched a deadly assault on parts of Damascus Wednesday as the regime battles to stamp out rebel resistance in the capital. In the deadliest operation, the army raided the southwestern district of Kafr Sousa, killing at least 24 civilians.
8:17 Since fighting has gripped the city of Aleppo, where many of Syria’s ethnic Armenian community live, increasing numbers have been fleeing to Armenia.
8:11 Syrian civilians are facing “horrific” violence as the battle for the commercial capital Aleppo rages, Amnesty International said Thursday, lashing out primarily at regime troops for launching indiscriminate attacks.
8:07 British Prime Minster David Cameron and US President Barack Obama on Wednesday warned they would be forced to consider a new course of action if Syria threatened to use chemical weapons against rebel fighters.
Troops and tanks swept into a town near Damascus on Thursday in an assault aimed at crushing opposition to President Bashar al-Assad in Syria’s increasingly bloody civil war.
Artillery and helicopters hammered the Sunni Muslim town of Daraya, killing 25 people and wounding 200 over the last 48 hours, opposition sources said. Soldiers moved in and raided houses.
“Artillery is firing from Qasioun Mountain in regular bursts of heavy barrages. I wonder what is left of the town,” said one woman watching the shelling from Damascus.
At least 100 people, including 59 civilians, died in violence across the country, according to the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Some 200 were killed on Wednesday.
There was little resistance as Assad’s forces pushed toward the center of Daraya on the southwest edge of Damascus. Armed rebels had apparently already left.
“They are using mortar bombs to clear each sector. Then they enter it, while moving towards the center,” said Abu Zeid, an activist speaking by phone from near Daraya.
Assad’s military had driven insurgents from most of the areas they seized in and around the capital after a bomb killed four top security officials on July 18. But rebels have crept back, regrouping without taking on the army in pitched battles.
Tanks and troops attacked the southwest Damascus suburb of Mouadamiya on Monday and Tuesday, killing 86 people, half of them in cold blood, according to Assad’s opponents.
It is hard to verify such assertions due to state curbs on independent media. Syrian leaders say they are fighting “armed terrorists” backed by Western and Gulf Arab nations out to topple Assad for his resistance to Israel and the United States.
Foreign fighters from Arab and other countries have joined Syrian rebels, possibly including Rustam Gelayev, son of a late Chechen rebel warlord in Russia’s Caucasus region.
Russian media and websites sympathetic to Islamist insurgents in the Caucasus reported that Gelayev had been killed in Syria, with some saying he had been fighting against Assad.
Russia’s Kommersant daily, however, cited a relative of Gelayev as saying he had been studying in Syria, had decided to leave due to the violence and was killed on his way to Turkey.
In Syria’s largest city, Aleppo, tank shells crashed into buildings in the rebel-held Saif al-Dawla district, even as displaced civilians came back to check their houses or pick up abandoned belongings.
A man in a dirty T-shirt and tattered sandals, who gave his name as Mohammed, said his home was in the nearby neighborhood of Salaheddine, now back in army hands after days of fighting.
“Me and my two brothers and our families left to stay with friends. I left with what I’m wearing. We are four families in one house,” he said, as shells landed a few hundred yards away. “Does the world care about Syrians? I think not.”
Aleppo, a once-prosperous commercial hub, is living through desperate times, divided by war, its streets stinking with rubbish and residents uncertain whether to flee or stay.
Rebel-held areas are at the mercy of army tanks, planes and helicopter gunships, with civilians now caught up in a conflict which Aleppo had mostly avoided until a rebel offensive in July.
“Where are we to go? Yesterday they hit the rebel base across the road, but nowhere is safe in Aleppo. The planes bomb everywhere,” said a carpenter who feared to give his name.
“If there is a safe place in Syria, tell me. We don’t have the money to leave the country,” the 53-year-old added.
YouTube footage showed a funeral in Daraya of a mother and five children from the al-Sheikh family. Activists said the victims were killed by shellfire in the town after fleeing this week’s military offensive on the Damascus suburb of Mouadamiya.
The bodies were wrapped in white shrouds, the children’s faces exposed. Mourners laid green branches on the corpses and cried: “There is no god but Allah, Assad is the enemy of Allah.”
International diplomacy has failed to break the conflict in Syria, which the United Nations says has cost more than 18,000 lives since a popular uprising erupted in March 2011.
Outgoing U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan has blamed splits in the U.N. Security Council, where Russia and China have repeatedly blocked Western efforts to ramp up pressure on Assad, for the failure of his peace mission.
Babacar Gaye, the head of U.N. monitors sent to observe an abortive ceasefire declared by Annan on April 12, was expected to leave Damascus on Thursday. The mission’s mandate has expired and was not renewed due to the spiraling violence.
Annan’s successor, veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi, was flying to New York for a week of consultations at the United Nations, his spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said.
It is not clear how Brahimi can succeed where Annan failed, given the deadlock among big powers and the intractable conflict in Syria, where Assad’s minority Alawite-based ruling system is pitted against mostly Sunni opponents.
The upheaval in Syria, at the heart of a volatile Middle East, is already spilling over into its neighbors.
Sporadic clashes between Sunnis and Alawites erupted for a fourth day in Lebanon’s northern city of Tripoli, breaching a truce agreed less than 24 hours earlier, after Sunni gunmen shot dead an Alawite man. Nine people were wounded in the fighting.
At least 13 people have been killed and more than 100 wounded in Sunni-Alawite fighting in Lebanon this week that has been fuelled by sectarian tensions in Syria.
Ankara has grown alarmed at apparent links between Kurdish militants fighting in southeast Turkey and the conflict in Syria. Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has accused Assad of backing Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) fighters and says Turkey’s military might act to counter any threat from the PKK in Syria.
Turkish and U.S. diplomats, intelligence and military officials held talks in Ankara on Thursday expected to touch on a possible buffer zone in Syria and steps to stop PKK militants in the border region from exploiting the chaos.
French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian suggested Western nations and allies could consider setting up a limited no-fly zone over part of Syria without a U.N. Security Council mandate.
It was the first time Paris has talked of intervention by an “international coalition” rather than by the U.N.
“The scenario mentioned by (U.S. Secretary of State) Hillary Clinton of a particular zone where there could be a banned area is something that needs to be studied,” Le Drian said.
(Additional reporting by Erika Solomon and Mariam Karouny in Beirut, Khaled Yacoub Oweis in Amman, Nicholas Tattersall in Istanbul, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Steve Gutterman in Moscow; Writing by Alistair Lyon; Editing by Andrew Roche)
Insight: Syria casts net wide in search of oil deals: LONDON – The Syrian government is negotiating deals with firms in London, Singapore and the Middle East to sell crude oil in return for the fuel it needs to survive in the face of an increasingly bloody insurgency, documents seen by Reuters show…
A former member of the Syrian National Council, who says she was driven out of the leading opposition group after expressing fear about Islamist domination, said on Thursday President Bashar al-Assad would fall only when ruling minority Alawites jumped ship.
Randa Kassis, a Paris-based secular opposition figure, said the SNC was ignoring the rise in Salafist and al Qaeda fighters in the country and had little contact with the Alawites, let alone a strategy to convince them to swap sides.
“Without the defection of the Alawites, we won’t be able to do anything and we will go straight into civil war,” Kassis told Reuters. What began last year as a mostly peaceful protest movement against Assad’s rule is now an armed insurrection led by rebels from the majority Sunni Muslim community.
Kassis, a writer and anthropologist, said she would unveil a new Syrian opposition bloc – The Movement for a Pluralist Society – in September to challenge the faction-ridden SNC.
It would, she said, be comprised of religious and ethnic minorities, including Druze, Christians and Kurds, as well as secular and pluralist members.
Among those supporting her are Omar Idelbi, from the Local Coordinating Committee in Syria, film director Jamal Suleiman, and Imad Houssari, an SNC member and member of the local coordinating committee in Damascus, she said.
Separate Syrian opposition groups have floated proposals for a transitional government over the last month, a sign that differences among the many factions opposing Assad are deepening even as rebels have made gains on the battlefields.
With fighting reaching the capital Damascus and commercial centre Aleppo, Western countries are increasingly anxious for the disparate opposition factions to agree on a credible plan for a transitional government to succeed Assad.
Kassis said she was skeptical any transitional government would be put in place, given the long history of mutual mistrust among Syrians after decades of police state repression.
She said her group’s primary objective would be to organize mass defections, especially within the Alawite community that she said would hit the regime “hard.”
Their families would first have to be smuggled out of the country, a feat only accomplished with the help of major powers.
There have been no known defections by powerful Alawites close to Assad but some high-ranking Sunni Muslims have bolted, including Prime Minister Riyad Hijab who fled Syria on August 6. A trickle of defections from army ranks has raised rebel morale.
“We are working with Alawites – the children of the old guard – to convince Alawites to defect,” she said. “I don’t think there will be any for the first few months, because how do you reassure a community that feels in danger?”
Financing is her group’s main obstacle, Kassis said, adding that the SNC and rebel fighters had received funds from Islamist groups in the Gulf and the Muslim Brotherhood, helping them to create an “illusion” of legitimacy.
As a result, Kassis said, she would be lobbying anti-Islamist groups for financial backing. She urged Western powers to push Gulf Arab countries concerned with the rise of Islamists to channel their funds towards her group rather than to the SNC.
“I have to try. We’re on the brink of civil war and now with the fundamentalists involved that can push the country into the unknown.”
The SNC recently elected Kurdish activist Abdelbasset Seida to head the group. He has said his priority would be to expand the council and hold talks with other opposition figures to include them in the council, which some have accused of being dominated by Islamists.
(Editing by Alexandria Sage and Mark Heinrich)
Guardian: US and Turkey meet to discuss Syrian chemical weapons: 23 Aug 2012: Washington moves to reassure Nato ally, with reports emerging of Pentagon plan to guard or destroy Syria’s stockpiles …
Syrians are torn between a despotic regime and a stagnant opposition: 23 Aug 2012: Hassan Hassan: The Muslim Brotherhood’s perceived monopoly over the Syrian National Council has created an opposition stalemate …
A year ago this week, the Syrian National Council was formed in Istanbulby a coalition of political forces and figures that presented themselves as society’s representatives. In the absence of a mechanism to determine the power base of each political force, the Muslim Brotherhood came to dominate the council, benefiting from its relations with Islamist-leaning Turkey.
The Brotherhood’s perceived monopoly over the council has led to a chronic political stalemate within the opposition and will most likely undermine an orderly transition if the situation persists. But the appointment of Algerian veteran diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi as the new UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, along with the recent defections of high-level technocrats, presents a new opportunity to reverse the group’s domination.
Brahimi is unlikely to succeed where his predecessor Kofi Annan failed in terms of ending the violence, but he can secure a political settlement and mediate a representative, inclusive political body that will help to avert chaos in the wake of the regime’s downfall.
It is difficult to precisely gauge the Brotherhood’s power base inside Syria, as the organisation has been banned since 1963. But past experience, when the Brotherhood was part of the country’s political system for more than a decade, and well-established social dynamics offer useful insights.
Moulhem Droubi, a senior member of the Brotherhood, has said the organisation represents 25% of the Syrian population. That is certainly disputable. In the 1949 parliamentary election, the movement won around 2.5% of the vote and in subsequent elections never rose above 6%.
At the time, the Brotherhood was viewed largely as a moderate organisation that preached more about socialism than religion, though it later started to alienate minorities. In 1950, it successfully campaigned to amend the constitution to make Islam the religion of the state and the president.
With the ascension of the Ba’ath party and its totalitarian rule in the 60s, the Brotherhood turned violent, splintered and formed militias that would later target civilians and military officers along sectarian lines in the 70s and 80s. Its power base has since dwindled significantly after four decades of systematic cleansing by the Ba’athist regime.
Activists from various parts of Syria have told me that, prior to the uprising last year, the country had almost zero Brotherhood presence. The organisation’s presence then started to return in some areas, particularly in Homs, Hama and Idlib.
Salama Kayla, a Christian Palestinian-Syrian who was recently deported by the regime for his role in the uprising, said he had visited several protest spots, including in Homs and Hama, in the early months of the uprising.
He said there were “negligible groups” of Brotherhood members with the protests in few areas. He said that activists in Hama complained that a small Brotherhood-affiliated group was pushing for “violent conflict”. It was surprising, he said, that the Brotherhood had such a small presence in a city widely considered as its stronghold.
“I am a middle-class Halabi [from Aleppo] and everyone I knew hated them,” one activist told me. “The only time I ever met an MB member is during an embassy protest outside Syria. They seem to be more popular among exiles.”
A senior member of the SNC who is close to the Brotherhood told me the organisation tends to believe that any person who receives aid through the group is expected to support it electorally in the future.
Even if the Brotherhood succeeds in establishing a palpable presence, its influence is likely to be limited to certain areas. At least seven out of 14 provinces will be outside the Brotherhood’s sphere of influence for the foreseeable future: Hasaka, Raqqa, Deir ez-Zor and Deraa (tribal and Kurdish areas that make up over 30% of the population, loyal to their local leaders), Suweida (the Druze stronghold, nearly 2% of the population) and the coastal provinces of Latakia and Tartus (where Alawites, Ismailis and other minorities are based and make up nearly 8.5% of the population).
Demographically, non-Sunnis form 30% of the population and Sunni Kurds make up 9%. These bases of ethnic and religious minorities, plus the tribes – altogether making up at least 70% of the population – had been outside the group’s influence in the past and will remain so in the future.
When the Brotherhood was part of the political system, the business community in both Aleppo and Damascus allied itself with the People’s party, a nationalist non-Islamist party, and then to the Ba’ath party. Politically, the business community today is also more likely to ally itself with non-Islamist groups.
Also, in both of these significant cities, the business community is socially tied with a local pragmatic clergy that adheres to a classical Sunni religious school similar to that of al-Azhar in Egypt.
The Brotherhood realises the limits of its power and seeks to establish levers of influence during the uprising and in the transition period. According to different accounts, the Brotherhood is using its control over the two key offices within the SNC, the aid and military offices, to establish leverage in certain areas and among the Free Syrian Army.
The group has formed its own brigades under the so-called Body of Civilians Protection, naming some of the brigades after the Brotherhood’s historical leaders. According to one informed source, the group has additionally about 13 brigades operating in Hama, known as Abulfidaa brigades.
Meanwhile, the country appears set for a war that will continue until the regime falls. Significant segments of society in Syria are torn between a despotic regime that is committing atrocities on a daily basis and a stagnant political opposition that has so far failed to present a viable alternative and is dominated by a group they view suspiciously. That is a torn majority, not a silent majority.
BBC News: Heavy clashes in key Syria cities
Heavy fighting continues in the Syrian cities of Damascus and Aleppo, reports say, with a rights group saying that civilians have been subjected to “horrific violence”.