Thursday 30 August 2012
Syrian Observatory for Human Rights: Final death toll for Thursday 30/8/2012: More than 150 Syrians have been killed
The dead include 86 unarmed civilians, 12 unidentified bodies, 16 rebel fighters, and no less than 25 members of the Syrian regular forces.
86 Unarmed civilians:
-In Idlib province 39 civilians were killed. 20 civilians, including 8 children and 9 women, were killed during bombardment on the area of abu al-Zuhur.
-In Reef Dimashq Province 13 civilians were killed. 3 civilians were killed by bombardment on the Hamourya town. 3 civilians were killed in the city of Douma, 1 effected by injuries he received during bmobardment, 1 was shot by sniper fire, and a little girl was shot at a military checkpoint in the city. 1 civilians was shot by regime forces in the Jarajeer village. 1 was killed under torture, after being kidnapped by pro-regime armed men in Qatana. 2 civilians from the Babila town, were shot by regime forces in the Jobar neighbourhood in the city of Dimashq. 1 was shot by sniper fire in the Zamalka town. 1 civilian from the town of Yabrud was shot by regime forces. 1 civilian from the village of Jreijeer in Reef Dimashq was killed under torture after being detained by regime forces.
- In Damascus Province 10 civilians were killed. 1 man and a woman were shot by sniper fire in the Jobar neighbourhood; 3 civilians were shot by regime fire in the neighbourhood. 3 civilians from the Jobar neighbourhood were shot by regime forces in the town of Ein Terma, Reef Dimashq. A civilian was found dead in the al-Qadam neighbourhood. 1 civilian from the al-Qaboun neighbourhood was killed by regime forces in the eastern Ghouta.
- In Homs Province 7 civilians were killed. 3 civilians, including a child, were killed by bombardment on the city of al-Qseir. 2 civilians were killed by bombardment on the city of al-Rastan and the town of I’z al-Din in Reef Homs. 2 civilians, including a woman, were killed by bombardment on the village of Abel in Reef Homs.
- In Dera’a Province 7 civilians were killed. 2 were killed by an explosion in the al-Smad neighbourhood. 1 was shot in the town of Sieda. 1 was killed by bombardment on the Nji’ town in Reef Dera’a. A civilian from the Tsil town was killed in the Barza neighbourhood in Damascus. 1 died from wounds he received earlier by bombardment on the Dera’a al-Balad neighbourhood in the city of Dera’a.
- In Aleppo Province 5 civilians were killed. 2 were killed by bombardment on the neighbourhoods of Bustan al-Qasr and Hanano. 3 civilians, including a woman, were killed by bombardment on the Deir Hafr and Tel Rif’at towns in Reef Aleppo.
- In Hama Province 2 civilians were killed. 1 was killed by bombardment on the Shahshbo mountain in Reef Hama. 1 was shot by regime forces in the Tariq Halab neighbourhood in the city of Hama.
- In Deir Izzor Province 3 civilians were killed. A civilian was shot by sniper fire in the city of Deir Izzor; 1 civilian was killed by the bombardment. 1 was killed by bombardment on the city of al-Boukamal in Reef Deir Izzor.
*** 12 unidentified bodies were found today. 3 were found in the Sheikh Najjar neighbourhood of Aleppo. 3 in the Jobar neighbourhood of Damascus. 6 were found in the city of Douma, Reef Dimashq.***
**Information was received that 10 civilians were killed by regime fire in Dera’a city**
The SOHR has documented the names of 7 civilians who were killed yesterday by the gunfire and bombardment in Damascus and its countryside.
16 Rebel fighters:
Homs province: 6 rebel fighters were killed. 3 rebel fighters from the town of al-Qritin were killed during clashes with regime forces in Reeb Dimashq. 3 rebel fighters from the Baba Amru neighbourhood were killed by an ambush set up by regime forces.
Reef Dimashq province: 5 fighters were killed during clashes with regime forces in the towns of Rankus, A’rbeen, and Harasta.
Aleppo Province: 3 rebel fighters were killed during clashes in the city of Aleppo.
Damascus Province: a rebel fighter from the al-Qaboun neighbourhood was killed during clashes with regime forces in the Zamalka in Reef Dimashq.
Hama Province: a rebel fighter died of wounds he received earlier during clashes with regime forces in the Sahl al-Ghab.
At least 25 regime forces were killed during clashes in the provinces of Idlib, Aleppo, Dier Izzor, Reef Dimashq, Dera’a and Homs.
[local time] 22:14 Organizers of the Toronto International Film Festival expressed grave concern on Thursday about the disappearance of Syrian documentary maker Orwa Nyrabia, calling it an arrest.
21:24 The opposition Syrian National Council urged the UN Security Council to impose a no-fly zone and humanitarian corridors to protect civilians caught in Syria’s conflict, in a statement issued ahead of a UN council meeting on Thursday.
20:32 Dissident Syrian diplomats and civil servants are covertly working from the inside to help opposition forces, a diplomat who recently defected from the regime told UN rights officials Thursday.
20:00 The British and French Foreign Ministers highlighted Thursday the major obstacles to creating safe zones for refugees from Syria’s civil war, but said they are ruling out no measure yet.
19:27 Syrian regime forces shelled the Al-Hajana area in Abu Kamal, Al-Arabiya television quoted activists as saying.
19:15 Eight children and nine women were among at least 20 people killed as government forces bombarded the Idlib region of northwest Syria on Thursday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
18:15 A mass grave was found on Tuesday containing victims of a “massacre” committed in Aleppo’s Al-Sheikh Najjar, activists said.
18:11 Etihad Airways, the UAE’s national airline, said on Thursday it has suspended flights between Abu Dhabi and Damascus with immediate effect because of the deteriorating security situation in Syria.
17:51 Thursday’s death toll in Syria has risen to 62 people, most of them killed in Daraa and Damascus, Al-Jazeera television quoted activists as saying.
17:16 Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki was to submit a plan to end Syria’s conflict on Thursday based on a halt to violence and formation of a unity government that could include President Bashar al-Assad, his spokesperson said.
17:09 The shelling of a shelter in Abu Zohur in Idlib by Syrian regime forces killed 18 people and injured dozens, Al-Jazeera quoted activists as saying.
16:45 Dozens of people were killed in Syrian regime forces’ shelling of the Saif al-Dawla neighborhood in Aleppo, Al-Jazeera television quoted activists as saying.
15:26 A YouTube video purportedly filmed on Thursday shows fires erupting amid the sounds of explosions at the Abu Zohur military airport in Idlib after rebels claimed that they took over parts of the airport overnight.
15:15 Al-Arabiya broadcast a video purportedly filmed on Thursday by Free Syrian Army rebels shows pilots ejecting from a regime fighter jet after it was allegedly hit by rebel fire.
15:04 Heavy clashes broke out in the Tadamoun and Midan neighborhoods of Damascus, Al-Arabiya reported.
15:03 Presidents Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran and Egypt’s Mohamed Morsi on Thursday discussed the Syrian conflict and their states’ severed diplomatic ties in their first-ever bilateral meeting, an official said.
14:52 Syrian security forces killed 32 people on Thursday, Al-Jazeera quoted activists as saying.
14:35 More than 8,000 members of the security forces have been killed since Syria’s anti-regime uprising broke out in March 2011, the director of the capital’s Tishrin military hospital said on Thursday.
13:35 Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem accused Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi of using his speech at the Non-Aligned summit in Tehran on Thursday to incite further bloodshed in Syria.
13:00 Syrian regime forces summarily executed 10 people near the Panorama playground in Daraa, Al-Jazeera quoted activists as saying.
12:03 Syrian government troops committed war crimes when they dropped bombs and fired artillery at or near at least 10 bakeries in Aleppo province over the past three weeks, Human Rights Watch said on Thursday.
11:35 The opposition Free Syrian Army claimed shooting down a fighter jet in the northwest province of Idlib on Thursday, as a watchdog reported a fresh eruption of violence across eastern suburbs of the capital Damascus.
10:43 The uprising in Syria is against an “oppressive regime” and a continuation of the Arab Spring, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi told a summit in Tehran, embarrassing Iran, which strongly support the Damascus regime.
10:42 The Syrian delegation withdrew from the first session of the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Iran as Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi addressed the Syria crisis, Al-Jazeera reported.
9:29 Syrian forces killed 16 people on Thursday, Al-Arabiya quoted activists as saying.
8:18 The new UN-Arab League envoy on the Syria conflict, Lakhdar Brahimi, wants to visit Damascus in the next three weeks, his spokesperson said Wednesday.
8:09 Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi agrees that there can be no political solution for Syria unless President Bashar al-Assad leaves power, the French presidency said Wednesday.
8:00 MORNING LEADER: President Bashar al-Assad rejected the idea of buffer zones for refugees ahead of Thursday’s UN Security Council meeting tackling deteriorating humanitarian conditions in Syria.
The UN Security Council discusses Turkey’s demand for refugee camps inside Syria but admits the issue raises “serious questions”.
The UN Security Council is meeting to discuss the crisis in Syria, with Turkey demanding the creation of refugee camps inside Syria.
Turkey told the UN to step in “without delay”, but the UN deputy head said the issue raised “serious questions”.
The opposition Syrian National Council has again demanded a no-fly zone.
Earlier, Egypt’s president prompted a walkout by Syrian delegates at a summit in Tehran, when he called Syria an “oppressive regime” without legitimacy.
Fighting continued in Syria on Thursday, with rebels saying they had shot down an air force fighter jet in the north-western province of Idlib.
Activists said government forces had responded with shelling in the province, killing 20 people, including eight children.
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu called on the United Nations to act “without delay” to set up refugee camps inside Syria.
“Needless to say these camps should have full protection,” he said.
Mr Davutoglu said more than 80,000 Syrians were housed inside Turkey, with another 4,000 crossing each day, and 10,000 more waiting at the frontier.
“Both Iran and Egypt see themselves as the natural leader of the Middle East and this fight is being played out at the summit” James Reynolds BBC Iran correspondent
He has said Turkey will not be able to cope when the number reaches 100,000.
However, ahead of the UN meeting, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said there would be “considerable difficulties” with the idea.
“We have to be clear that anything like a safe zone requires military intervention and that of course is something that has to be weighed very carefully.”
But Mr Hague added: “We are excluding no option for the future.”
France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said “large-scale” military resources would be needed to protect refugees but if the conflict worsened “we will have to look at the different solutions”.
Going into the UN meeting, the organisation’s Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson said of the camps issue: “Such proposals raise serious questions.”
The Security Council remains deeply divided on Syria, with both Russia and China staunchly opposed to any external intervention.
Mohammed Mursi’s comments will “really have hurt”, the BBC’s Jon Leyne says
They are unlikely to back any military element to the creation of refugee camps.
The difficulties were highlighted by the fact that of the 15 council members, only France, Britain, Colombia, Morocco and Togo sent ministers to the current meeting.
On Wednesday, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad dismissed as “unrealistic” the idea of creating humanitarian buffer zones within Syria.
The Syrian National Council again called for a no-fly zone, to cancel the government’s air power monopoly.
In their joint press conference, Mr Hague and Mr Fabius also announced new financial help for the UN’s refugee work in Syria.
France will add 5m euros ($6.2m) to its current 20m euro pledge and the UK will add £3m ($4.75m) to its £27.5m commitment.
Both called on other nations to increase their pledges.
Earlier, Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi, making the first visit to Iran by an Egyptian leader since 1979, told the Non-Aligned Movement (Nam) summit in Tehran that the Syrian uprising was a “revolution against an oppressive regime”.He told delegates of the 120-member body: “Our solidarity with the struggle of the Syrian people against an oppressive regime that has lost its legitimacy is an ethical duty, as it is a political and strategic necessity.”
His comments sparked a walkout by the Syrian delegation.
Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said Mr Mursi’s speech “incites continued bloodshed in Syria”.
The US, which questioned Mr Mursi’s attendance at the summit, praised his “very clear and very strong” remarks.
The BBC’s Iran correspondent, James Reynolds, says Tehran’s hope for the summit was to show the West the Islamic Republic had plenty of friends elsewhere, but Mr Mursi’s comments would certainly have upset the hosts.
Iran has been solid in its support for the Assad government.
Our correspondent says that for many years both countries have seen themselves as the natural leader of the Middle East and this fight is being played out at the summit.
Separately on Thursday, in an interview with BBC Arabic, the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Martin Dempsey warned that Syria might turn into “a failed state” as there was no end in sight to the conflict.
“It will be a terrible outcome, especially for the Syrian people, but also for the region,” he said.
In Thursday’s fighting in Syria, Free Syrian Army chief for Idlib province, Col Afif Mahmoud Suleiman, told Agence France-Presse: “A MiG [fighter] was shot down this morning by our men using automatic weapons, shortly after taking off from Abu al-Zohur military airport.”
Amateur footage broadcast by Arabic satellite TV stations of the purported incident showed smoke billowing and two figures parachuting to the ground.
The UK-based opposition activist group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said that 20 people, including eight children and nine women, were killed in bombardments by security forces in Abu al-Zohur that were carried out in response to the rebel attacks.
Clashes were said to be continuing elsewhere in the country on Thursday, with activists reporting pre-dawn fighting in the eastern suburbs of Damascus.
Activists also said fierce fighting was continuing in the bitterly contested commercial city of Aleppo.
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- Aims to represent the political, economic and cultural interests of the developing world
Syrian rebels shoot down a government fighter jet in the north-western province of Idlib, unconfirmed reports say.
Egypt called on Thursday for intervention to halt bloodshed in Syria, telling a meeting of 120 nations it was their duty to stand against the “oppressive regime” of Bashar al-Assad, prompting a Syrian walkout.
President Mohamed Mursi, elected two months ago after a popular uprising toppled Egypt’s long-standing leader Hosni Mubarak, said Assad had lost legitimacy in his fight to crush a 17-month-old revolt in which 20,000 people have been killed.
Mursi’s scathing speech to a summit of non-aligned leaders, hosted by Assad’s Shi’ite ally Iran, prompted Syria’s foreign minister to accuse the moderate Sunni Islamist leader of inciting further bloodshed in Syria.
The political broadside against the Syrian president came as rebels said they shot down a fighter plane in northern Syria, where his air force has been bombarding opposition-held towns in a fierce counter-offensive against insurgents.
It was the latest strike by Assad’s foes on the air power he has increasingly relied on to crush the uprising. Rebels said this week they attacked a northern military air base and shot down a helicopter that was bombarding a district of Damascus.
“The bloodshed in Syria is our responsibility on all our shoulders and we have to know that the bloodshed cannot stop without effective interference from all of us,” Mursi said.
“We all have to announce our full solidarity with the struggle of those seeking freedom and justice in Syria, and translate this sympathy into a clear political vision that supports a peaceful transition to a democratic system of rule that reflects the demands of the Syrian people for freedom.”
His comments prompted Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem to storm out of the meeting, complaining that Mursi was inciting fighters to “continue shedding Syrian blood”, Syrian state television said.
ASSAD SAYS NEEDS TIME
Assad, in his first television interview since rebels took their fight into the heart of Damascus and the country’s biggest city, Aleppo, said on Wednesday his fight to put down the uprising was going well but needed more time.
“Everyone wants this battle to be completed in days or weeks but this isn’t reasonable, because we are in the middle of a regional and international struggle and it needs time to be resolved,” he said.
Mainly peaceful protests were met with force by Assad’s military, and the uprising has degenerated into a civil war with sectarian overtones and regional dimensions. The mainly Sunni Muslim rebels are backed by regional Sunni powers, particularly Gulf Arab states and Turkey.
Assad, whose Alawite community is an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam, has support from Iran, a rival of Gulf Arab states and Western powers. Lebanon’s Shi’ite militia Hezbollah has also shown solidarity with the Syrian president.
The role of regional powers has assumed greater significance because of deadlock at U.N. Security Council, where diplomatic stalemate has marginalized the major powers.
U.S., Russian and Chinese ministers are not expected to attend Thursday’s U.N. Security Council meeting on Syria, underlining the fact that both Assad’s critics and backers on the council see little prospect of it taking any action.
“We wanted a resolution on humanitarian issues, but we faced a double refusal,” said a French diplomat, whose country will chair the meeting in New York.
“The United States and Britain believe we have reached the end of what can be achieved at the Security Council, and Moscow and Beijing said that such a resolution would have been biased.”
Nearly a year and a half after the uprising erupted, Assad’s political foes are equally divided.
A member of the Syrian National Council, which once hoped to win international endorsement as the country’s leadership-in-waiting, resigned this week complaining it was not doing enough to back the revolt and must be replaced by a new political authority.
“My sense was that the SNC was not up to facing the increasing challenges on the ground,” Basma Kodmani, the latest council member to break from the SNC, told Reuters.
PLANE “SHOT DOWN”
The Syrian Martyrs Brigade said on Thursday it brought down a plane near the town of al-Thayabiya. Video footage on Al Arabiya television showed what appeared to be smoke in the sky and a person parachuting down. An army helicopter hovered over the area, apparently in search of the pilot.
“The brigade has started targeting the regime’s air assets, including military airports,” a member of the group said from Idlib, declining to give further details.
As well as targeting rebels, Assad’s jets and artillery have also struck at least 10 bakeries in Aleppo province in the last three weeks, killing dozens of people as they waited in line to buy bread, the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said.
It said the attacks were either deliberate or done without care to avoid the hundreds of civilians forced to queue outside a dwindling number of bakeries in Syria’s biggest city, a front line in the civil war.
One attack two weeks ago killed around 60 people and wounded more than 70, it said.
The fighting around Aleppo, Damascus and the southern province of Deraa, where protests against Assad first erupted in March 2011, has prompted waves of refugees to flood into neighboring Turkey and Jordan.
Turkey urged the United Nations to protect displaced Syrians inside their own country, to take the pressure off its crowded refugee camps, and France said it was studying the issue of buffer zones in Syria, an idea Assad dismissed as unrealistic.
(Additional reporting by John Irish at the United Nations, Erika Solomon in Beirut, Marcus George in Dubai; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Jon Boyle)
France, Britain say Syria military intervention on table: UNITED NATIONS – France and Britain warned Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad on Thursday that military action to secure safe zones for civilians inside the country was being considered despite the paralysis of the U.N. Security Council over how to end the 17-month conflict…
Syrian forces bombed people queuing for bread: HRW: BEIRUT – Syrian jets and artillery have struck at least 10 bakeries in Aleppo in the last three weeks, killing dozens of people as they waited in line to buy bread, Human Rights Watch said on Thursday, accusing the military of targeting civilians…
Syrian refugees strain Jordan’s dusty desert camp: ZAATARI, Jordan – At a dust-blown refugee camp in the Jordanian desert, Ayham Qaddah hugs the only member of his immediate family to survive the rocket which struck his home in Syria’s southern province of Deraa, killing his wife and three sons…
Egypt‘s president Mohamed Morsi has said that the “oppressive” Syrian regime had lost all legitimacy, in a blistering speech in Tehran that provoked the Syrian delegation to storm out and amounted to a stunning rebuke to his Iranian hosts.
During the first visit by an Egyptian leader to Tehran since the 1979 Islamic revolution, Morsi said the world had an “ethical duty” to supportSyria‘s rebels.
“Our solidarity with the struggle of the Syrian people against an oppressive regime that has lost legitimacy is … a political and strategic necessity,” he said.
“We all have to announce our full solidarity with the struggle of those seeking freedom and justice in Syria. [We should] translate this sympathy into a clear political vision that supports a peaceful transition to a democratic system of rule that reflects the demands of the Syrian people for freedom.”
Morsi’s comments to a meeting of the 120-nation Non-Aligned Movement in Tehran amounted to a verbal handgrenade tossed at Iran‘s shocked leadership. Iran is the key regional sponsor of Syria’s embattled president, Bashar al-Assad, and one of his few remaining international allies.
The remarks are also a bold assertion of post-revolutionary Egypt’s renewed regional leadership ambitions. With the Middle East now dividing sharply along sectarian lines, Morsi has thrown his weight behind a powerful group of Sunni states including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey that support Syria’s rebels – with only Shia Iran, evermore isolated, backing Assad and his Shia Alawite-led regime.
Syria, predictably, responded with fury. Its foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, walked out. Damascus accused Egypt of interfering in its internal affairs and instigating bloodshed. In his own speech, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, failed to mention the 17-month Syrian conflict, while Iran’s state-run media blanked out Morsi’s criticism of Assad.
Morsi, a moderate Islamist, has proposed that Iran take part in a four-nation contact group including Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia that would mediate in the Syrian crisis. Morsi declared: “The bloodshed in Syria is the responsibility of all of us and will not stop until there is real intervention to stop it. The Syrian crisis is bleeding our hearts.”
Morsi was apparently referring to diplomacy rather than any potential foreign invasion. He also hailed both Syrians and Palestinians for their “brave” struggle against oppression. He later met Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Analysts said the week-long summit had not been the smooth diplomatic triumph Iran might have hoped for.
“The Iranians rolled out the red carpet for Morsi. But he didn’t follow the Iranian script. It was embarrassing for the Iranians,” said David Hartwell, senior Middle East analyst at IHS Jane’s, adding: “The non-aligned movement tries to be fairly anodyne and focused on anti-imperialism. But Syria has made it problematic. Egypt also views Iranian influence in Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories as particularly unhelpful. It sees it as an Iranian/Shia attempt to spread influence in the region.”
Of Morsi, he said: “We are learning about him. We don’t know what his foreign policy is going to be.”
Morsi is the first Egyptian leader to visit the Iranian capital since the 1979 Islamic revolution. Egypt and Iran fell out over Cairo’s support for the Shah and its peace deal with Israel. Despite recent improvements, neither has upgraded ties to ambassadorial level.
Iran, meanwhile, faces diplomatic isolation and sanctions because of its alleged nuclear programme.
On the ground in Syria, fighting continued on Thursday. Opposition activists said rebels had shot down a government warplane over the northern province of Idlib, the second time in a week rebel fighters claimed to have brought down an aircraft. One video appeared to show a pilot parachuting to the ground. A subsequent video showed his dead body.
Government shelling continued in several parts of the country, with residents in Kafr Batna, in the Damascus suburbs, reporting heavy bombardment.
“The Syrian regime is attacking us with mortars and helicopters. Today there are lot of soldiers and armoured vehicles massing up at the entrance to Kafr Batna. They might storm the district at any moment,” one resident, Rima Sami, told the Guardian via Skype. Sami said all the bakeries were shut and the shelling had made it impossible for the Free Syrian Army to smuggle in food.
Human Rights Watch said government forces had dropped bombs and fired artillery at or near at least 10 bakeries in Aleppo province over the past three weeks, killing and maiming scores of civilians who were waiting for bread.
The attacks were at least recklessly indiscriminate and the pattern and number of attacks suggested government forces had been targeting civilians, it said. Both reckless, indiscriminate attacks and deliberate targeting of civilians are war crimes.
One attack in Aleppo on 16 August killed up to 60 people and wounded more than 70. Another attack in the city on 21 August killed at least 23 people and wounded 30.
“Day after day, Aleppo residents line up to get bread for their families, and instead get shrapnel piercing their bodies from government bombs and shells,” said Ole Solvang, emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch who has just returned from Aleppo. “Ten bakery attacks is not random – they show no care for civilians and strongly indicate an attempt to target them.”
Syria: this may be the best chance to exit the quagmire: 30 Aug 2012: Wadah Khanfar: Iran recognises Assad will fall. Neighbouring states fear the conflict could engulf the region. A crucial shift is taking place
A crucial shift is now taking place in the Middle East towards the conflict in Syria. The Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi’s call for Arab-Iranian-Turkish dialogue over the crisis and a safe transfer of power in Syria – which he repeated in his speech to the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Tehran – has been well received in Turkey and Iran. All these countries have a powerful interest in making such a dialogue work, which makes the chances of success far greater than at any time previously.
The context is clear enough. The Syrian rebels have made major gains. The revolution moved to a new phase after the 18 July attack in Damascus, which took the lives of several top security officials, a huge morale boost to the Free Syrian Army (FSA). It has since tried to secure a number of Syrian border crossings with Turkey and Iraq, and its fighters also established a military presence in Damascus and Aleppo, two cities which had been under the absolute control of the regime.
As for the regime, it has witnessed a collapse of morale, represented by a raft of major defections – the most important being that of the former prime minister and a number of military and security leaders. This has created considerable alarm within the Bashar al-Assad regime, provoking savage responses, as demonstrated by the unprecedented use of air power to bomb population centres. The outcome has been a startling rise in casualties and an unprecedented flow of refugees to neighbouring countries. Assad’s interview this week asking for more time to defeat the rebels suggests the bloodshed will get even worse.
Iran recognises now that it is just a matter of time before the Assad regime falls, and its realisation that unlimited support for him will be a disaster has led Tehran to search for an exit from this Syrian quagmire.
Syria represented the cornerstone of the so-called “axis of resistance”. The exit of Sunni Hamas from Damascus last year, following the regime’s crackdown, was a huge blow to this axis, exposing a sectarian divide. Most regional parties who now support the Alawite regime in Damascus are Shia, from Tehran to the Maliki regime in Iraq and Hezbollah in Lebanon. This has alienated Iran from the Sunni majority in the region and worldwide, at a time when the US and Israel threaten a military strike against its nuclear facilities.
Hence the Egyptian initiative gave Iran an important opportunity which it seized immediately. The participation of Morsi in the non-aligned alliance in Tehran offers an important diplomatic opportunity for Iran.
This week’s summit, also attended by UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, took place against the background of international failure to reach consensus on Syria given the positions taken by Russia and China on the one hand, and because of the hesitancy of the US to allow the flow of more effective anti-aircraft weapons to the FSA, fearing that these weapons may present a future danger to Israel’s security. This position has clearly signalled to Syria’s neighbours the need for an acceptable outcome to the bloody conflict before it risks engulfing the entire region.
As for Turkey, it is beginning to realise that the Syrian crisis could harm its own national security, not least with the escalation of hostile Kurdish activities against Turkey in the Syrian border provinces. Not only that, but the collapse of the Assad regime would cause a huge security and economic burden if there were no agreement with Iran and the Arab states over a smooth transitional process. The common fear is that Syria could become the battleground for a regional proxy war, with various players seeking to secure their interests by supporting allied military groups in a conflict lasting years.
The Arab states, particularly Saudi Arabia and Qatar who support the Free Syrian Army, also favour a regional agreement of which Iran will be a part. Despite growing fears over Iran, the Gulf states don’t wish for a confrontation with Tehran because the costs of such a conflict would be huge. The reception given by Saudi Arabia to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the recent Islamic solidarity conference in Mecca, and the announcement by King Abdullah of the establishment of a centre of dialogue between Islamic schools of thoughts in Riyadh, signals that the Gulf states have no desire to further strain relations with Iran.
The Egyptian initiative is important because it is the first by its newly elected civilian president, and also because it comes after Morsi was able to establish his authority internally by dismissing the previous military leadership. This gives his initiative greater weight abroad and signals a return to Egypt playing its historic leading role.
Egypt today appears well qualified to take a balanced position between all the parties: it does not carry any constraining baggage; and given that it represents the spirit of the Arab spring, it has moral authority. All this has pushed the regional parties to respond positively.
We should also not ignore the position of the Syrian people, who will have the final word on their future. They – like Turkey, the Arab League and the Egyptian president – will not accept any solution that does not guarantee the departure of the Assad regime. However, Morsi made clear that he is against any military intervention in Syria, which resonates well in Tehran.
And above all, it is imperative that Iran recognises this is the last opportunity to correct its strategic error of supporting a regime that is about to fall.