Wednesday 9 May 2012

Secretary-General condemns bomb attack near UN observer convoy in Syria: Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has condemned a bomb explosion which occurred in the vicinity of a convoy of UN observers in Syria, injuring several Syrian soldiers accompanying the delegation, Mr. Ban’s spokesperson said today.

The observers, part of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS), were on their way from Damascus for a visit to the southern city of Dar’a, under Syrian army escort. They had crossed a military checkpoint on the road approaching the town when the improvised explosive device detonated, shortly before midday today.

“The Secretary-General strongly condemns this attack and calls on all parties to adhere to the cessation of violence and to cooperate with, support and protect the UNSMIS observers,” Mr. Ban’s spokesperson said in a statement.

“We have no evidence to believe that the explosion was intended to target the UNSMIS convoy; however, this incident demonstrates the difficult and challenging conditions under which our United Nations observers are operating,” the spokesperson added. “It also demonstrates the volatile and dangerous situation in which the Syrian people have been living for months.”

Authorized by the Security Council last month, UNSMIS is tasked with monitoring the cessation of violence in Syria and supporting the full implementation of a six-point plan put forward by the Joint Special Envoy of the United Nations and the League of Arab States on the Syrian Crisis, Kofi Annan.

The spokesperson’s statement followed earlier comments by the head of UNSMIS and Chief Military Observer, Major-General Robert Mood, who had been leading the UN observer delegation.

“This was a graphic example of what the Syrian people are suffering on a daily basis and underlines the imperative for all forms of violence to stop,” Major-General Mood said in an UNSMIS news release, issued after the explosion.

Mr. Ban’s spokesperson noted the Secretary-General is deeply concerned about the recent increase in the detonation of explosive devices throughout Syria.

“Such incidents, in addition to the continued violence reported in many cities in Syria, call into question the commitment of the parties to the cessation of violence and may have a direct impact on the future of the Mission,” the spokesperson said.

He added that UNSMIS and the efforts of Joint Special Envoy Annan are possibly the only remaining chance to stabilize the country and avert a civil war.

While none of the observers were hurt, several Syrian soldiers from the convoy’s rear escort vehicle were injured and taken for medical treatment. Major-General Mood expressed concern for the injured soldiers, noting that members of UNSMIS were in the Dar’a hospital to check on their condition.

“We remain focused on the tasks mandated to our Mission under UN Security Council resolution 2043,” he added.

In its news release, UNSMIS said that, so far, it has 113 personnel from 38 countries, including 70 Military Observers and 43 civilian staff members, on the ground. The Mission currently operates from five bases in different parts of Syria, besides Damascus, with eight Military Observers and three Civilian staff members deployed in Homs, and four Military Observers each in Hama, Idleb, Dar’a and Aleppo.

With a total mandated strength of 300 Military Observers and additional civilian staff members as required, UNSMIS said it continues to receive new members on a daily basis as it establishes and expands its presence across the country.

“In the next two days, we will cross the 100 mark for Military Observers in the Mission,” Major-General Mood said.

The crisis in Syria, which began in March 2011 as a protest movement similar to those across the Middle East and North Africa, has claimed over 9,000 lives, mostly civilians, and displaced tens of thousands.

Mr. Annan’s six-point plan calls for an end to violence, access for humanitarian agencies to provide relief to those in need, the release of detainees, the start of inclusive political dialogue that takes into account the aspirations of the Syrian people, and unrestricted access to the country for the international media.

Addressing the media in Geneva yesterday, following a briefing via video-link with the Security Council, Mr. Annan noted that, amid concerns from the international community over the prospects of a “full civil war” in Syria, the ongoing levels of violence and human rights abuses in the Middle Eastern country are unacceptable and the UN observer mission is possibly the only remaining chance to stabilize it. He added that while there had been some decrease in the military activities, there are still serious violations in the cessation of violence that was agreed.

English Speakers to Help The Syrian Revolution: I ran out of words, and the video just brought me to tears,, I am just trying to look at his eyes. This boy is mute, I can see it in his eyes that he is disappointed, hurt, frustrated, NO MORE HOPE IN HIS EYES! Your eyes my dear says it all !! It’s enough for him seeing his father getting shot before his eyes on the hands of the Citadel sniper in Homs, TODAY.

Is it the Syrian’s fate to suffer even without uttering: Help!??? What the boy uttered in the video: Dad! and the man with him gave him a coin and put it in his hands and told him: you will buy a bag of potato chips!

The Military Council has issued a statement about the car blast in al-Manshieh this morning asserting that while FSA has claimed responsibility for blowing the military vehicle which was attacking civilians, the attack was in a military zone and did not in any way target the UN observers as the regime is trying to show.The Council confirms that the confusion with regards to this incident is deliberately promoted by the regime to make false allegations against FSA. The Council holds the regime responsible for any aggression against the observers. 952012.

Kurdish rights and constitutional exclusion in Syria

Posted on 7 May 2012 by Christian Sinclair
In my first column, I’m going to recap a talk I gave last weekend in Istanbul at a conference called “On the Way to a New Constitution.”

What events of Syrian history have helped contribute to the brutal repression of that country’s Kurdish population? As the country’s largest ethnic minority, the Kurds in Syria make up approximately 10% of the country’s population and have long been denied the most basic expressions of identity in a ruthless push by the state to promote Arab nationalism and preserve its territorial integrity. If we look at the evolution of Syria’s constitutions we may begin to understand the situation and how it has come to pass that Kurdish rights have been trampled on so thoroughly. Then, maybe, we can understand Kurdish calls for recognition under a new, post-Assad, post-Ba’ath constitution and ask what this long repressed group may need to feel like equal partners in a new Syria.

Since Syria’s separation from the Ottoman Empire, the country has experienced many constitutions, constitutional reforms, and constitutional setbacks. The nation’s 1920 constitution (its first) called the Syrian government an Arab government. This came on the heels of the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and the new nation became the “Arab Kingdom of Syria” under King Faisal, who announced that his would be an Arab government “based on justice and equality for all Arabs regardless of religion.” His government only lasted four months before the French took control.

In 1927 French Mandate Authorities set up a Constituent Assembly to begin drafting a new constitution. In the summer of 1928 a Kurdish delegation to the Constituent Assembly petitioned for political, cultural, and linguistic rights, including the use of Kurdish as a medium for teaching. However, worried about what was happening in neighboring countries and fearing nationalist aspirations, the French Mandate Authorities declined the Kurdish request.

Syria gained complete independence in 1946 and not too long after, a major regional development would affect the long-term evolution of Syria’s many constitutions: the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. In Syria’s constitution of 1950 the addition of an article stating that Syria is “a part of the Arab nation” was added for the first time. The can be seen as a direct, defensive response to the formation of the state of Israel.

In an article from the Middle East Journal in 1951, Majid Khadduri discusses the question of Syrian unity as an additional factor that influenced Syria’s constitutional evolution. The French had parceled up “Greater Syria” doling out chunks of land to neighboring countries and establishing Lebanon as an independent entity. This created a Syrian version of Turkey’s “Sèvres Syndrome.”

Part of preamble to 1950 Constitution

Khadduri also said that “[s]tability in government presupposes the development of constitutional traditions. Frequent changes of regime…hardly afforded an opportunity of developing the tradition of responsibility necessary for stable government.” So if the tradition of responsibility wasn’t developing, what was? A fear of territorial disintegration, rising nationalism, worries about political stability, and regional geo-political shifts outside the government’s control. In 1953 another constitution was declared which added (in Article 3) that the Syrian Republic should pursue the goal of a “United Arab Nation.” But that constitution didn’t last long and the 1950 Constitution was reinstated in 1954.

From independence and through the early 1950s, a large-scale Kurdish political movement emerged, culminating in Syria’s first Kurdish political party in 1957. Some of the demands of the movement were: constitutional recognition, Kurdish participation in the administration of the state’s affairs, Kurdish as an official language, recognition of Newroz, and, some form of administrative autonomy. These demands, however, were only seen as risks. They were viewed through the developing lens of rising Arab nationalism and a fear of territorial disintegration. The Kurds were slowly inching up the list as the young nation’s most dangerous threat.

From 1958-1961 Syria was united with Egypt to form the United Arab Republic UAR) and it was during this time that Arab nationalism flourished. The union provided the means and opportunity to implement assimilation policies to safeguard its existence. For example, Egyptian schoolteachers were sent to Kurdish regions in Syria to replace Kurds and to oversee the Arabic-only language policies. Syria withdrew from the UAR in 1961 and announced the formation of the Syrian “Arab” Republic. The union ended but the assimilation policies continued full force, including the now infamous census in 1962 that stripped 120,000 Kurds of their Syrian citizenship.

In April 2012 Rudaw interviewed the leader of the Syrian National Council, Burhan Ghalioun, who said: “The Kurdish history in the pre-Ba’ath era was different from that of the Ba’ath era. Kurds are not different from other citizens in Syria. This feeling emerged under the Ba’ath, because the Ba’ath Party really pursued a discriminatory, racist, and marginalizing policy against the Kurds.” He says that Kurds were part of the political and social landscape and there were no problems prior to 1963. Perhaps there were fewer problems, but he is whitewashing a discriminatory history. When the Ba`ath party came to power in 1963 it simply continued the existing policies of denying Kurdish identity.

In 1964 a temporary constitution stated in Article One that: “Syria is part of the Arab homeland. And the people of the Syrian Arab region are a part of the Arab nation. They work and struggle to achieve the Arab nation’s comprehensive unity.” Article 22 offered rights and freedoms only “under the condition of not endangering the national security” or “Arab unity.” This was a continuation of the constitutional exclusion and criminalization of non-Arab identities.

Another temporary constitution was announced in 1969, which included an article stating: “The educational system aims at upbringing an Arab nationalist socialist generation.” This reflected policies already in place. The Kurdish language had already been banned in public and in education. In 1967 school geography texts removed any mention of the Kurds. Yet other non-Arab minorities (Armenians and Assyrians in particular) had their own schools and clubs where their languages were taught. Why? They were not seen as a threat to the Arab nation.

Syria’s 1973 (and current) constitution is meaningless as the country’s penal codes supplant constitutional principles. These penal codes are used to prosecute Kurdish activists, politicians, and students, as Kurds are afforded no constitutional protections. They are charged with: “attempting to sever part of the Syrian territory to annex it to a foreign state” (Article 267); “involvement in cells seeking to weaken nationalist consciousness and to stir up racial sectarian strife” (Article 285); and, “involvement in an unauthorized organizations” (Article 288).

What do Kurds in Syria want today? Well, what have the Kurds been asking for since the French Mandate? Mother-tongue education in Kurdish, political freedoms, and de-criminalization of Kurdish identity through constitutional recognition. Demands have not changed much over time. What then needs to change for Kurds to achieve their long-sought-after goals? Syria needs to reconceptualize itself as a multi-ethnic, pluralistic democracy modeled on the idea of integration without assimilation and governance by the will of the people.

That notion of “the will of the people” as “the basis of the authority of the government” [Article 21(3) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights] somehow got lost along the way in Syria’s history to a point where it is now “the needs of the state” functioning as the sole basis of the authority of the government. Who will form “the people” upon which the authority of a future Syrian government will rest? Does the Syrian National Council truly represent the people? With accusations of foreign influence and declarations from the SNC leadership that Kurds will not be given group rights, the answer is no. The SNC or any representative body requires a willingness to integrate rather than exclude in whole or in part. At some point a new constitutional will be drafted. However, a new constitution will not resolve the current issues without a total overhaul of the country’s political structures and a reframing of the national mindset.

NOW Lebanon
[local time]  20:44 Bomb attacks like the one near a UN convoy in Syria on Wednesday cast doubt on the future of the ceasefire monitoring mission in the country, UN leader Ban Ki-moon said.
 20:17 Agreements with Syria on extradition and the fight against organized crime which were ratified by Romania this week despite criticism have not come into force, the Romanian Foreign Ministry said Wednesday.
 19:45 The opposition Syrian National Council has signed a partnership deal with Miami-based opponents of Cuba’s communist regime, which both sides said was aimed at fighting dictatorship in their countries.
 19:13 The value of the Syrian pound is down 45% on the parallel market and the stock market has slumped 40% since an uprising broke out in March 2011, the International Monetary Fund said on Wednesday.
 18:28 The death toll in Syria reached fifteen people killed by security forces, activists told Al-Arabiya.
 18:09 The Syrian security forces raided the Damascus neighborhood of Baraza, activists told Al-Arabiya.
 13:48 At least six people were killed in Syria on Wednesday, Al-Jazeera quoted rights group as saying.
 13:00 France strongly condemned Wednesday’s bomb attack on a convoy of UN observers in Syria, including the Norwegian major general heading the mission, foreign ministry spokesperson Bernard Valero said.
 12:57 The Syrian National Council opposition bloc on Wednesday accused the Syrian regime of being behind a blast that targeted a UN convoy, injuring six soldiers but leaving the peace monitors unharmed.
 12:11 The head of a UN observer mission to Syria, Major General Robert Mood, escaped unharmed when a blast went off as his convoy entered a restive southern town on Wednesday, an AFP photographer said.
 11:46 A roadside blast hit troops escorting UN observers in Syria’s restive south on Wednesday, a day after UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan warned his peace plan could be the last chance to avoid civil war.
 10:56 Troops pounded a rebel hideout near Damascus as renewed violence across Syria killed at least three people on Wednesday, among them two soldiers and one civilian, a rights watchdog said.
 8:30 MORNING LEADER: UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan says his peace plan could be the last chance to avoid civil war in Syria, where a truce has failed to end 14 months of bloodshed that monitors say has killed nearly 12,000 people.
 8:13 Top US officials are meeting in Washington this week with Syrian Kurdish leaders in a bid to build a “more cohesive opposition” to President Bashar al-Assad, the State Department said Tuesday.
 7:45 The United Nations has information that arms are being smuggled in both directions between Lebanon and Syria, a UN Middle East envoy said Tuesday.

BBC: Explosion near UN convoy in Syria

An explosion has hit a Syrian military truck escorting a convoy of UN observers near the city of Deraa, just seconds after UN staff had passed by.

The head of the UN team, Maj Gen Robert Mood, was in the convoy, but neither he nor any of the other monitors was hurt.

Eyewitnesses said at least three Syrian soldiers were wounded. The windows of the truck were shattered.

The observers are in Syria as part of the joint UN-Arab League peace plan and began deploying last month.

There are now about 70 monitors in Syria but their presence has had no effect in quelling the violence.

Deraa was where the uprising against the government of President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011.

‘Dance of death’

An Associated Press reporter travelling in the UN convoy said the explosion blew out the military truck’s windows and caused a plume of thick black smoke.

It is not clear who was behind the blast. However, the opposition Syrian National Council is blaming the government, saying the explosion is part of a campaign to drive the UN monitors out of the country.

Maj Gen Mood condemned the blast, saying the observers would remain focused on their mission.

“This is a graphic example of violence that Syrians do not need. It is essential to halt the violence in all its forms,” his spokesman told a news conference in Deraa, according to the AFP news agency.

Meanwhile, the BBC’s Lyse Doucet, who has been to the Syrian city of Homs, says there is constant shooting there, despite a ceasefire between government and opposition forces.

Our correspondent, who spent the night in Homs, also heard heavier weapons being fired.

She saw UN observers patrolling the city but said entire neighbourhoods were deserted.

In other developments, UN Middle East envoy Terje Roed-Larsen told the Security Council that arms were being smuggled in both directions between Lebanon and Syria.

“What we see across the region is a dance of death at the brink of the abyss of war,” he told reporters later, AFP reported.

Violence was reported in several parts of the country on Wednesday, including the northern province of Idlib and the city of Hama.

 The BBC’s Lyse Doucet in Homs: “I can hear birdsong and bullets in the distance”

Two members of the security forces were killed by gunmen in the eastern town of Deir al-Zour, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Also on Wednesday, Syrian troops fired across the border into Lebanon, killing an elderly woman and wounding her daughter, Lebanese officials said.

The UN estimates about 26,000 Syrians have fled across the border to Lebanon, most of them in the north.

On Tuesday, UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan told the Security Council that his peace plan could be the “last chance to avoid civil war” in Syria.

He told a closed session that the plan was “not an open-ended commitment” and highlighted continuing violations.

Mr Annan said he was particularly concerned that torture, mass arrests and other human rights violations were “intensifying”.

He also told the council that President Assad bore “primary responsibility” for ending the military campaign.

The UN says at least 9,000 people have died since pro-democracy protests began in March 2011. In February, Syria’s government put the death toll at 3,838 – 2,493 civilians and 1,345 security forces personnel.

Syria heavily restricts access to foreign journalists and the reports cannot be independently verified.


image of Lyse DoucetLyse Doucet BBC News, Homs

Homs, a lively Syrian city once regarded as a place of peaceful co-existence, has borne the brunt of violence in Syria’s 14-month long uprising.

Its sprawling neighbourhoods stand deserted, desolate, destroyed in a haunting monument to months of brutal conflict.

On some streets, you walk on a carpet of glass. Every window in every building is shattered.

Gunfire rings out night and day, with occasional bursts of shelling. There is no ceasefire here and there will not be for some time.

The neighbourhood of Baba Amr was its biggest target in a city activists now call the “capital of the revolution”.

Not a single building seems to have escaped the government’s ferocious assault.

Structures still standing are peppered with shrapnel, blackened by fire, fingers of concrete.

Guardian: Six Syrian soldiers injured in blast near UN observer mission convoy

9 May 2012: Roadside explosion in southern city of Daraa happens 100 metres behind convoy carrying head of UN observer mission

A roadside bomb struck a Syrian military truck on Wednesday, wounding six soldiers seconds after a convoy carrying the head of the UN observer mission passed.

The blast – which came just a day after former UN secretary general Kofi Annan issued a plea for peace in the country – cracked the truck’s windows and caused a plume of black smoke to rise into the sky. The UN convoy was not hit.

The attack was a graphic example of what the Syrian people live with every day, the head of the UN observer mission, Major General Robert Mood, told reporters. He said the observers’ work would continue as usual.

The blast went off after Mood headed into the southern city of Daraa, the birthplace of the Syrian uprising, with a convoy of monitors and journalists. The explosion was more than 100 metres (330ft) behind the convoy.

“We were driving behind the UN convoy as protection when a roadside bomb exploded, wounding a first lieutenant and five troops,” a soldier who asked to be identified only by his first name, Yahya, told Associated Press at the scene.

At least three bloodied soldiers were rushed away. Mood said he did not know whether the blast was meant to target the observers or the military.

“For me the important thing is really not speculating about who was the target, what was the target, but it is to make the point that this is what the Syrian people [are] seeing every day and it needs to stop,” he said. “Whomever is doing it and whomever is supporting it.”

Also on Wednesday, bullets flying across the Syrian border into Lebanon killed a 70-year-old woman and wounded her daughter, Lebanese security officials said.

The two were near a mosque in the village of al-Qaa in north-eastern Lebanon near the border when the shooting happened. The older woman was shot once in the head and once in the chest and died soon after, the officials said. Her daughter was shot in the stomach, but the wound was not life-threatening. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity under government rules.

There were also reports of a rocket-propelled grenade attack on a bus in the Damascus suburb of Irbin in which seven militiamen loyal to the president, Bashar al-Assad, were said to have been killed.

It was unclear who was behind the bombing in Daraa, but Syria‘s rebel leader, Colonel Riad al-Asaad, had threatened to resume attacks because, he said, the government had not honoured a ceasefire, the London-based Asharq al-Awsat newspaper reported on Wednesday. Asaad told the paper that “our people are demanding that we defend them”.

Annan has brokered a peace plan that calls for a truce monitored by observers to pave the way for negotiations for a resolution. But on Tuesday, he gave a bleak assessment of the crisis in Syria, saying violence remained at “unacceptable levels” and warning that his peace plan was the country’s last chance to avert a disastrous civil war.

Annan insisted there was still hope and said the presence of UN observers had had a calming effect on the crisis, which has killed at least 9,000 people since March 2011.

“There is a profound concern that the country could otherwise descend into full civil war and the implications of that are frightening,” Annan told reporters in Geneva after briefing a closed-door session of the UN security council in New York by video conference. He said the observer mission was “the only remaining chance to stabilise the country”.

Annan’s efforts have been troubled from the start. A truce that was to begin on 12 April has never really taken hold. About 60 UN observers are currently in Syria, and Annan said that a full deployment of 300 should be on the ground by the end of the month.

President Assad still has a firm grip on power, and his regime portrays his opponents as terrorists attempting to weaken the country.