Wednesday 31 October 2012
Syrian Observatory for Human Rights: Preliminary death toll for Wednesday 31/10/2012: More than 130 Syrians have been killed so far today. The dead include: 55 civilians, 30 rebel fighters, 1 defected soldier, 46 regular soldiers. 55 Unarmed civilians:
- In Dera’a province 3 killed. A nurse from Khirbet Ghazala was killed while assisting the wounded in the town of al-Hirak. 1 was killed by a sniper in al-Hirak. A youth was killed by indiscriminate fire in Dera’a city
-In Deir Izzour 2 civilians were killed. a woman died by the bombardment on the city. 1 child was killed in Muhassan.
30 Rebel fighters:
Aleppo: 12 fighters were killed. 1 by clashes with pro-regime gunmen in Aleppo. 10 by clashes with regime forces in Aleppo, 1 a rebel leader. 1 by the bombardment on al-Atareb.
Homs: 6 rebels killed. 1 rebel died by clashes in Mbarkiya village. 3 rebels from the Bweida Sharqiya village was killed in Mbarkiya. 2 rebels were killed by clashes in Homs city. 1 rebel from the Insha’at neighbourhood was killed in Mbarkiya.
Idlib: 4 rebels were killed by clashes and bombardment in Ma’arat al-Nu’man and Jisr al-Shughour.
Reef dimashq: 3 rebel died of clashes in Harasta, Irbeen and Medeira.
Deir Izzour: 2 rebels were killed by clashes in the Jbeila neighbourhood of Deir Izzour.
Hama: 2 rebels were killed, 1 a leader, by a pro-regime gunmen ambush set up for them in the Dahriya neighbourhood of Hama city.
Latakia: 1 rebel was killedby the bombardment on al-Haffe.
A defected soldier was killed by the clashes in Reef Idlib.
No less than 46 regular soldiers were killed by clashes in various provinces: 2 in deir Izzour, 13 in Reef Dimashq, 9 in Aleppo, 15 in Idlib, 3 in Homs and 4 in Latakia
150kg of hashish was removed from people who brought the drug into the Kurdish area, from Turkey, and was destroyed. The people caretaking in the Kurdish area do not accept the drugs trade in the area.
On Thursday, FSA rebels advanced into Kurdish and Christian neighborhoods in Aleppo, Syria, in a daring attempt to capture the city. Initial reports based on FSA claims and somebody’s friend who spoke to someone in Aleppo on the phone had the rebels taking 90 percent of the city and cooperating with Kurdish militias, but less than a day later these claims were revealed to be false. It seems the Popular Protection Unit (YPG), a Kurdish militia set up to protect the Kurdish areas from opposing forces, repelled the FSA. Shortly afterward, the Syrian army bombed the neighborhood, and a reported 15 Kurdish civilians were killed.
The following day, the FSA once again tried to enter the Kurdish neighborhood known as Ashrafiya. This video purports to show them firing at a civilian demonstration protesting the FSA and regime coming into the neighborhood, a Kurdish stronghold.
The YPG again fought back, repelling the FSA for a second time. According to a YPG source, there were 19 FSA deaths, 10 Kurdish civilians, and one YPG death. Hostages were taken on both sides, but both parties are said to have eventually released them. A report by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the death total at around 30, and said 200 people had been captured. An FSA leader released a statement calling the intrusion in Ashrafiya a mistake. The YPG also said they were moving a special forces unit into the neighborhood to further fortify it.
Conflicting reports have surfaced regarding who attacked the demonstration. Some blame factions of the FSA, while others point the finger at Jubhat Al-Nusra, a jihadi group linked to Al Qaeda. The YPG does not make a distinction, however. Though they speak of a willingness to cooperate with the FSA and maintain relations, they steadfastly refuse to let any other armed groups enter Kurdish neighborhoods. Many Kurds I spoke to while reporting recently from the Kurdish areas in the northeast of Syria expressed hesitant support of the FSA, cheering them in their fight against the regime but distrustful of their ties to Turkey, who has been waging a war of their own for nearly 30 years against a Kurdish insurrection.
The YPG has been linked to the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the most powerful Kurdish party in Syria. Turkey and some members of the FSA have accused the PYD of being a front for the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the rebel group currently at war with the Turkish government. The PYD say that while they share an ideology with the PKK based on the words of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, they are their own force and take orders from no one. Ocalan, now imprisoned in Turkey, spent 20 years in Syria and has a cult of personality surrounding him. Posters and flags bearing his image are everywhere in Syrian Kurdistan, also known as Rojava. Children wear necklaces with his face on pendants, and some young women I met had an image of him as the background on their cell phone.
The Kurds, for the most part, have tried to prevent the catastrophic violence of the civil war from entering their region. In Kurdish cities in the northeast, demonstrations against the regime have been ongoing, and Assad forces pulled back with minimal conflict a few months ago, leaving the Kurds with some sense of independence. Some have accused the Kurds of making a deal with the regime, but it appears that both groups are simply acting practically. Assad does not wish to open up a new front, and the Kurds simply want to protect their cities and their people. Though some media outlets have reported that there is an official truce between some Kurds and the regime, there is no evidence of this being true.
Kurds make up around 10 percent of the population in Syria, totaling about 2 million, but have been treated as second-class citizens for generations. Kurdish rights activists have been subjected to imprisonment, torture, and assassinations. In 2004, the Kurds in the city of Qamishlo revolted against the Assad regime, but the rebellion was quickly crushed and more than 30 Kurds were killed.
Not too much is known about the YPG, as they have declined to speak to Western media and only speak with Kurdish media sparingly. Through connections I made during a recent trip through the Kurdish areas of Syria, and with the help of an emissary of PJAK, a Kurdish rebel group in Iran, I’ve been able to correspond with a member of YPG’s central command over Skype from his apartment in Qamishlo. I conducted an interview with him a week before the fighting in Ashrafiya, and since then he has kept me abreast of ongoing developments. Although I was slightly skeptical at first, everything he’s told me so far has checked out, even when it contradicts the immediate narrative being put forth by most media.
The man, who gave his name as Shiyar Hassan, is 35 years old and has been a member of the YPG since it was founded. He said that the YPG formed in 2004 shortly after the Qamishlo riots, when a number of Kurdish youth realized that they needed to be able to defend themselves more efficiently. They did not officially declare themselves until the revolution started in 2011, and only made themselves known to the media in 2012, when they revealed their camps and brigades. “For years the Kurdish youth have lived under the oppression of the Baath regime,” he told me. “We have reached a point where we should live with honor.”
In early October I attended a PYD rally for the YPG in Qamishlo, which is currently home to both Assad regime troops and the YPG. So far a tense calm has remained over the city despite a few skirmishes and a car bomb detonated against the Assad forces and claimed by Jubhat al-Nusra. It seems likely that Qamishlo, the largest Kurdish majority city, will be a flashpoint in the coming weeks, but the demonstration that day was filled with singing and dancing.
Fifty young men and women, their faces wrapped in keffiyehs so as to hide their identities, stood rigid as they lined up in military formations and marched into the center of the street. They were greeted by a few thousand PYD supporters, all chanting slogans in favor of the YPG.
“We support YPG because these are our brothers, our sons, and we want to protect ourselves. We don’t want anyone else coming here to protect us,” said Laila Muhammad Murad, 35, a bystander at the rally, as she joined a chorus of older women in their chants for Kurdish rights.
Not all Kurds in Syria support the PYD and the YPG though. Activists and opposition parties have accused the PYD of kidnapping rivals, assassinations, and general intimidation of opponents, using the YPG as an enforcement arm. The recent fighting in Aleppo seems to have intensified this conflict, though claims that it may lead to a Syrian Kurdish civil war similar to the one in Iraqi Kurdistan in the mid 1990s seem a bit presumptuous at the moment. When I questioned Kurds in Syria from both the PYD and rival parties about this infighting, they mostly brushed off concerns, saying that there were some small bumps and that they would work past it because “all Kurds are brothers.”
As the only Kurdish militia in Syria operating at the moment, however, it seems that the YPG is the only line of defense for the Kurdish people. The YPG is outgunned and outnumbered by the Assad regime and the FSA, but whereas the FSA is an umbrella organization for a variety of groups that lacks a strong central command, the YPG is a unified fighting force. Additionally, as the Iraqis, Iranians, and Turks can testify, guerilla fighting seems to be an innate quality in the Kurds.
It’s hard to get a good estimate on the number of fighters in the YPG. Low numbers say about 1,500, while I’ve heard others claim that they have up to 15,000. More recruits are joining every day, and they recently announced the establishment of a fourth brigade. “We have enough to protect the whole of western Kurdistan. We live among our people, and we have enough weapons we get from our people to defend ourselves,” said Hassan.
Whereas some FSA groups reportedly receive funds and weapons from Qatar, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia, and the regime is aligned with Syria and Russia, the Kurds do not seem to have an outside benefactor. At one point, Iraqi Kurdistan offered to send Syrian Kurdish troops it had been training on the border into Syria, but this was declined by the PYD, who saw it as a threat to their power. “We have got all our training here in Rojava, we didn’t get our training or support outside of Rojava, and we don’t want to see a second military force in Rojava,” said Hassan. “You can’t have two forces in one country. We call all the youth to join us, we are open for everyone.”
I questioned him as to how the Kurds planned on acquiring more arms, as videos of them taken by Kurdish channels show only Kalashnikovs and technicals (the pick-up trucks with the machine guns mounted on the back). “There is no problem to get arms. This is the Middle East, it is the biggest arms market you can find,” he said. ”When it comes to money, we get support from the people, because we protect the people and we guard them and the people regard us as their children.”
Though I was initially skeptical when he told me that the Kurds were prepared for any confrontation, Friday’s fighting in Ashrafiya may speak volumes about their ability to defend themselves.
Despite the recent clash with the FSA, when we spoke the week before, he told me that they had relations with the FSA on a local level but did not want them in Kurdish areas. “We want better relationships with them, we see them as a revolutionary force, but in places where we are organized, we see no need for them to be there. We have enough strength to defend ourselves,” he said.
A month earlier in Erbil, the largest city in Iraqi Kurdistan, I had spoken with Salih Muslim Muhammad, the leader of the PYD, who had told me roughly the same thing. “The Free Syrian Army, locally we have some relations with them, but this FSA is not one body. There are many bodies and they have many heads… There are no clashes between us, and we respect each other,” he said. “We said, OK, you can fight, and we are fighting government forces, but we don’t like you to be in our areas. It’s their places, they can do whatever they like in their places, but not in our places.””
Looking back, his words seem eerily prescient. Muhammad also reiterated a major talking point for those in the Kurdish areas, that of distrust of the FSA due to Turkish influence. “Those who are neighbors with the Kurdish areas, we can understand each other. But the heads that are sitting in Istanbul or Ankara, they are looking at us like enemies,” he said.
One point Hassan stressed over and over was that the YPG is a defensive force. The militia is meant as a deterrent to the FSA, Jihadi groups, and the regime, and they will only attack if provoked, he told me. In a separate conversation we had following the fighting on Friday, in which the regime had also bombed the neighborhood, he said that they would not let the regime’s attack go unanswered and they would respond “not only in Aleppo but everywhere.”
It may seem like bravado considering the overwhelming strength of the Assad forces, but it would not be the first time the YPG has responded after the regime attacked a Kurdish area. In September, the regime bombed Sheikh Maksud, a Kurdish neighborhood in Aleppo, killing 21 civilians. A few days later, the YPG killed 3 soldiers in the Kurdish city of Efrin and captured a number of others, relieving them of their weapons and kicking them out of the city.
It’s too soon to tell whether the skirmishes of the past week will be a major turning point in the conflict, or exactly what role the YPG will play in the future.
Hassan was hesitant to make predictions about where the conflict would turn. “We are not politicians. We don’t talk about what can happen,” he said. “Our work is to be prepared for any outcome. Anything that happens, we are prepared for it.”
[local time] 21:17 A huge explosion rocked the neighborhood of Al-Tadamon in Damascus, Al-Arabiya quoted activists as saying.
21:12 Syrian security forces killed 113 people on Wednesday, activists reported.
20:45 US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday that Washington wanted to help the Syrian opposition unite against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime but urged it to resist efforts by “extremists” to hijack the revolution.
19:49 An oil pipeline in Syria’s Deir az-Zour was shelled, Al-Arabiya reported.
17:25 Russia on Wednesday warned that the “bloodbath” in Syria would continue if the West stuck to its demand for President Bashar al-Assad’s ouster.
17:37 Fifteen people were killed or injured in the shelling of the Damascus town of Zamalka, Al-Arabiya reported.
17:25 Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday that the Syrian bloodbath will persist if the West insists on Bashar al-Assad’s ouster, AFP reported.
16:39 Wednesday’s death toll has increased to 67, activists said.
16:10 Syria’s Wednesday death toll increased to 53 people killed by the Syrian regime, Al-Arabiya quoted activists as saying.
15:54 Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan asked Wednesday for German help in grappling with a flood of Syrian refugees, calling the bloody strife across the border a “catastrophe.
15:49 All Syrian opposition groups called on Wednesday for a rapid formation of a government in exile in order to win greater political support from the international community.
14:33 A motorcycle bomb attack on Wednesday near a Shiite Muslim shrine southeast of Damascus killed at least eight people and injured dozens, a watchdog said.
14:16 Several people were killed and others injured in the shelling by Syrian regime warplanes of a bakery in Al-Atareb in Aleppo, Al-Arabiya quoted activists as saying.
14:13 Syrian forces killed 24 people on Wednesday, Al-Arabiya reported.
13:18 One woman and two children were killed when a bakery was hit by Syrian regime forces’ shelling in Kfar Hamra in Aleppo, Al-Jazeera quoted activists as saying.
13:10 Syrian regime forces killed 17 people across Syria on Wednesday, Al-Arabiya quoted activists as saying.
11:54 More than 36,000 have been killed in Syrian since the start of the conflict in March 2011, says the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
7:51 UN Peace Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said Wednesday he hoped China would play an active role in helping end the violence in Syria after a summit in Beijing.
US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton urges the Syrian opposition to reject extremism and says the rebel leadership must be more inclusive.
Speaking on a trip to Croatia, she said the rebel leadership needed to be more inclusive of those fighting in Syria.
The Turkey-based Syrian National Council (SNC) has been powerless to stop the escalating violence.
Mrs Clinton also revealed the Obama administration has suggested who should feature in the rebel leadership.
“There has to be a representation of those who are in the front lines fighting and dying,” she told reporters.
“This cannot be an opposition represented by people who have many good attributes but who, in many instances, have not been inside Syria for 20, 30, 40 years.”
The secretary of state said there had been “disturbing reports” of Islamic extremists entering Syria to try and take advantage of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad
The rebels should “strongly resist the efforts by the extremists to hijack the Syrian revolution”, she warned.
There have been reports of foreign Islamist fighters entering Syria to fight alongside the rebels, and hardline Salafist groups like the al-Nusra front have claimed responsibility for several bomb attacks.
Syria’s disparate opposition groups are meeting in the Qatari capital Doha next week.
Mrs Clinton said Washington wanted to help the opposition to unite behind an effective strategy to move toward political transition in Syria.
Syria’s rebels are divided on how best to achieve the overthrow of President Assad’s government and what kind of state should come afterwards.
ZAGREB – The United States called on Wednesday for an overhaul of Syria’s opposition leadership, saying it was time to move beyond the Syrian National Council and bring in those “in the front lines fighting and dying”. | Video
Guardian: Syria’s former prime minister Riyad Hijab, who defected from the Assad regime in August, has been named on proposed opposition council that has been set up in consultation with the US government as a possible transition government. The new 51 member ‘National Initiative Council’ is due to be unveiled in Doha next week.
• A bomb killed at least seven people near a Shia shrine in a southern suburb of the Syrian capital Damascus. Security personnel swarmed the area after the incident.
• Syrian rebels claim they have formed a brigade of sympathetic Palestinians in a Damascus district to fight armed Palestinians aligned with President Bashar al-Assad. Rebels said they and the new brigade will attack Yarmouk fighters loyal to Ahmed Jibril, head of the Syrian-sponsored Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command accusing Jibril’s men of harassing camp residents and attacking Free Syrian Army fighters.
• Israel is ready to launch military action if Hezbollah militants try to move chemical weapons or long range missiles from Syria into Lebanon, theIsraeli Defence Minister told the Times. In an interview in London, Ehud Barak said “We are determined not to let it happen because it will change the very delicate balance in Lebanon right now.”
• UN-Arab League peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi has travelled to Beijing for talks with China’s foreign minister Yang Jeichi, following the failure of his Eid al-Adha ceasefire initiative. China, along with Russia, has vetoed three UN security council resolutions on Syria. Brahimi said he hoped China would play an active role in helping end the violence in Syria.
• There are conflicting accounts of who was responsible for the assassination in Damascus of air force commander General Abdullah Mahmud al-Khalidi, the New York Times reports. AFP says the rebel Free Syrian Army has claimed responsibility for the assassination. But other unconfirmed reports raise the possibility the general had been killed by government agents to prevent him from defecting. Al Jazeera quoted unidentified activists as saying “the regime got rid of him”.