December 2, 2011 - Syria News Blog: A Roundup of International Reportage

In the News | 02-12-2011

Arab League, Turkey Impose Sanctions Against Syria, UN Terms Crisis "Civil War," Ups Death Toll to "Much More" than 4,000

Damascus's recalcitrance before mounting regional and international pressure to bring an end to country-wide violence prompted both the Arab League and Turkey to impose sanctions against Syria this week. Syria's international isolation has taken on profound dimensions as the beleaguered government fights at all costs to remain at the country's helm. The UN Human Rights Committee has now charged the Syrian government with committing systematic "crimes against humanity" while the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, upped the death toll from the uprising on December 1 to "much more" than 4,000 and declared Syria in a state of "civil war".

The Syrian Revolution
On Thursday, November 24, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that over 50 people were killed in Syria, with the worst of the violence occuring in Homs and Rastan. Among the dead, were 23 soldiers and 15 alleged army deserters, and 13 civiliansincluding six children. Five of the soldiers were killed during an ambush in Hama province. 
Seven air force pilots were also killed in a separate ambush on a bus traveling between Palmyra and Homs on Thursday. The Free Syrian Army (FSA) claimed responsibility for the latter attack. The FSA's commander, Riyadh al-Asaad, now claims that his units total some 20,000 men. Such claims cannot be independently verified. 
State-run TV ran clips of a military spokesman claiming that the attack was carried out on an air force base. "An armed terrorist group undertook an evil assassination plot that martyred six pilots, a technical officer and three other personnel on an air force base between Homs and Palmyra," the spokesman said. "This confirms the involvement of foreign elements and their support of these terrorist operations in an effort to weaken the fighting capabilities of our forces," the spokesman continued. According to members of the opposition, the attack was actually carried out in Furqlous, a town 35 southwest of Homs - not on the air force base.
On Sunday, November 27 Jordanian media reported gunfire at the country's border with Syria. According to the reports, Syrian soldiers allegedly opened fire on a couple and their child as they attempted to cross in Jordan. According to the same reports, such incidents are not infrequent. An estimated 1,500 Syrians have registered with the UN Refugee Agency since the uprising began early this year. 
The same day, an estimated 23 people were killed in violence in a number of locations across the country. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, in three separate incidents in Homs, some six people were killed. Clashes were reported between the Syrian military and armed members of the Syrian opposition in Talbiseh in Homs province, Daraa, Deir ez-Zor, and Idlib. 
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights charged that security forces engaged in vandalism in the Kafarnabuda region of Hama province. Homes and shops were reportedly plundered. All related reports are unconfirmed. 
On Wednesday, November 30, the Syrian government released 912 individuals who, according to state media, "who were involved in the latest events without perpetrating acts of killing". 
The same day, clashes were reported between security forces and the opposition in the southern province of Daraa. According to locals, battles erupted following the arrival of armored personnel carriers in the city of Dael. Two government vehicles were allegedly destroyed. 
International Organizations
UN Committee Against Torture warns of "systematic attacks" against Syrian civilians by government 
On Friday, November 24 the UN Committee Against Torture accused the Syrian government of committing "rife or systematic attacks against the [Syrian] civilian population, including the killing of peaceful demonstrators." Of particular concern to the committee, are reports of torture and killing of children taken into custody by Syrian security forces. 
The UN Committee Against Torture is comprised of ten independent experts and chaired by Claudio Grossman, an expert from Chile. On Friday Grossman expressed concern for reports of "extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, arbitrary detention by the police forces and the military; and enforced and involuntary disappearances" in Syria. "Needless to say the serious massive violations of human rights take place in a context of total and absolute impunity. There haven't been investigations on this matter," Grossman stated.
UN Human Rights Committee releases report, charges Syrian government with committing "crimes against humanity"
At a news conference in Geneva on Monday, November 28, the UN Human Rights Council released a report, "Report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic," developed by an independent international commission of inquiry charged with investigating allegations of violations of human rights in Syria since March 2011. 
The report's content came from the commission's meetings with officials, journalists, experts, NGOs, human rights activists, and interviews of 223 victims and witnesses in connection with the events in Syria. The report "documents patterns of summary execution, arbitrary arrest, enforced disappearance, torture, including sexual violence, as well as violations of children’s rights". 
Abbreviated excerpts from the report's eight key findings:
"1. Impunity…The commission expresses its grave concern over the prevailing systemic impunity for human rights violations and its entrenchment in legislation awarding immunity for State officials, 
in contravention of the State’s international legal obligations."
"2. Excessive use of force, extrajudicial executions and other violations of the right to life... In the Syrian Arab Republic, the high toll of dead and injured is the result of the excessive use of 
force by State forces in many regions. Isolated instances of violence on the part of 
demonstrators do not affect their right to protection as enshrined in international human 
rights law."
"3. Violations of the right to peaceful assembly and the right to freedom of expression. Efforts by the  government to control information and the right to freedom of assembly and expression lie at the heart of the current violence. Consistent eyewitness and victim accounts indicate that military and security forces have reacted excessively to peaceful demonstrations, including the  use of live ammunition to quell demonstrators and extensive  cases of  arbitrary detention." 
"4. Arbitrary detention and violations of the right to a fair trial…the absence of judicial independence and the extensive use of arbitrary and incommunicado detention without criminal charges or judicial supervision. Mass arrests have regularly been  made  by military and security forces. Detainees were charged with broadly defined crimes such as “weakening the national sentiment”, and prosecuted at random in civil or military courts...The commission notes with concern reports indicating the practice of involuntary and enforced disappearances."
"5. Torture and sexual violence. Information received demonstrates  patterns of  continuous and widespread  use  of torture across  the  Syrian Arab Republic where protests have taken place…The commission is particularly disturbed over the extensive reports of sexual violence, principally against 
men and boys, in places of detention. The commission concludes that the extensive practices of torture indicate a State sanctioned policy of repression…"
"6. Violations of children’s rights. The commission expresses its deepest concern over consistent reports of extensive violations of children’s rights committed since the start of the uprising in March, including killings of children during demonstrations and widespread practices of arbitrary detention, 
torture and ill-treatment, in particular of boys. Children were subjected to the same 
conditions and abuses in detention as adults."
"7. Violations of the right to freedom of movement. The right to freedom of movement is provided  for under article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. This right encompasses both the freedom of movement inside the country of residence and  the freedom to leave one’s 
country.  The  Syrian Arab Republic has  taken measures to restrict the right to leave  the 
country to seek protection and has deliberately targeted and killed people at or near border 
"8. Violations of economic and social rights. Restrictions imposed by the State on the treatment of injured protesters constitute serious violations of the right to health and the right to access medical assistance...Other rights, such as the right to an adequate standard of living and the rights to 
food, to water (art. 11) and to education (art. 13), have been infringed upon in the context of 
wide-scale military operations and blockades in several locations." 
Some excerpts from the commission's recommendations for the Syrian government:
"(a) Put an immediate end to gross human rights violations; (b) Initiate prompt, independent and impartial investigations  under both domestic and international law  to end impunity, ensure accountability and bring perpetrators to justice; (c) Pending investigations, suspend from the military and the security forces all alleged perpetrators of serious human rights violations; ... (e) Release immediately all persons arbitrarily detained and provide international monitoring bodies and the International Committee of the Red Cross with access to all places of detention; (f) Allow immediate and full access for the  commission  and  outside  observers, and other United Nations human rights monitoring bodies; Grant immediate access to affected areas and provide international  organizations, United  Nations specialized agencies  and  non-governmental organizations with full cooperation for the purpose of protecting  the population and providing humanitarian assistance; (h) Ensure full access for media and allow both national and international journalists to cover the events in the country without harassment or intimidation; (i) Abolish legislation granting military and security forces immunity... (j) Support hospitals and clinics to ensure provision of adequate health care, including for those injured in the unrest;
(k) Establish a mechanism to investigate cases of disappearances by allowing relatives of disappeared persons to report the details of their cases, and to ensure 
appropriate investigation; (l) Establish a reparation fund for victims of serious human rights violations, including killings, enforced disappearances, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, arbitrary detention and destruction of property; (m) Implement political and legal reforms announced in 2011 ensuring the respect of human rights; (n) Respect human rights defenders and ensure that there are no reprisals against persons who have cooperated with the commission…"
To read the original report in its entirety, click here
International Politics & Diplomacy 
France, Turkey contemplating plans to establish "humanitarian corridor" in Syria
France is currently working on a plan that would use the land between Syria and Turkey's Hatay province to establish a "humanitarian corridor" aimed at aiding Syrian civilians in need of medical and food supplies. According to the plan, international aid agencies such as the International Red Crescent, would use the corridor to deliver supplies to Syrian populations in crisis. Presumably, vehicles delivering supplies would be accompanied by non-armored vehicles charged with monitoring whether supplies are delivered unimpeded to intended recipients.
Such a plan, however, would likely be ill-fated as in the absence of a clear mandate to use lethal force in defense of aid workers and civilian recipients, intervening forces would likely find themselves endangered by and indeed powerless before hostile forces in the country. Were the situation in Syria to deteriorate such that a humanitarian corridor became necessary, it is reasonable to assume that aid workers would eventually come up against grave security threats. In the absence of a mandate to defend themselves and those receiving aid, their operations in country could not be carried out. Additionally, there is no reason to believe that those using and monitoring the humanitarian corridor would ever be granted a mandate by the UN to use force against security threats, nor is there any reason to believe that the Syrian government would grant international actors access to its territory. 
One need only turn to Lebanon in the 1980s, Rwanda, and Bosnia, Somalia, and Darfur for examples of the complications associated with operations with limited mandates.
BRICs warn against international intervention in Syria without UN backing
On Thursday, November 24 during a press conference in Moscow, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said of Syria's crisis, "At the current stage, what is needed is not resolutions, not sanctions, not pressure, but internal Syrian dialogue."
Moscow continues to condemn international sanctions and diplomatic meddling in Syria, instead advocating for dialogue between members of the Syrian opposition and the current government. 
Following a meeting in Moscow the same day, diplomats from Brazil, Russia, India, China (the BRIC countries) and South Africa reiterated warnings about the prospects for international intervention in Syria without formal UN backing. The officials were responding to recent reports that France is developing a plan to create humanitarian corridors into Syria, enabling the transport of medical and food supplies to populations in need. 
On Monday in Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the press that with regard to the international response to the crisis in Syria, "Right now, the most important thing is to stop acting by means of ultimatums and try to move toward political dialogue."
Lavrov went on to assert that it was inappropriate to expect the Syrian government not to respond to the country's crisis, stating that, "For the most part, armed groups are provoking the authorities." 
Saudi officials urge citizens to leave Syria
On Tuesday, November 29, Saudi officials urged their citizens to leave Syria immediately out of concern for the country's security situation. "Due to the security situation, Saudi Arabia urges its citizens to leave Syria and not travel there," the Saudi ministry said in a statement to the country's official SPA news. 
Organization of Islamic Cooperation urges Damascus to end violence
Following a meeting on Wednesday in Jeddah in which Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem was in attendance, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the secretary-general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), told the press that the OIC urged Damascus to “immediately stop the use of excessive force” against its citizens, with particular concern for averting international intervention in the country. 
Economic Development & Trade
Syrian Economic Minister Shaar - crisis is the "worst in our recent history"
In an interview if AFP on November 24, Syria's Economic Minister Mohammed Nidal al-Shaar spoke of the country's deepening economic woes, conceding that the current crisis is the worst in Syria's recent history.
"What we need today is to make ourselves more efficient in our self-sufficiency by distributing more efficiently our resources and factors of production, by better management of our trade and factories," Shaar continued. "In summary... to return to inside syria."
The interview came just days before the Arab League moved ahead with sanctions against the country. Shaar holds a Ph.D. in economics from George Washington University. To view a video of Shaar's remarks, click here.
Arab Leagues imposes sanctions against Syria, Damascus responds with hyperbole, recycled video footage
On Friday November 25, the deadline imposed by the Arab League for Syria to sign an agreement allowing pan-Arab monitors into the country passed with no word from Damascus. In response to Damascus's recalcitrance, the League officially imposed sanctions against Syria on Sunday, November 27. 
The sanctions include a travel ban against 17 Syrian politicians and officials, the banning of dealings with the Syrian Central Bank, and the cessation of Arab-country-financed projects in Syria. The League also imposed a ban on commercial flights between Syria and its member states. 
The move is a serious one from an organization previously considered essentially strategically irrelevant in the region. In a statement on the League's decision to impose sanctions, Qatari Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jassem bin Jaber al-Thani said,  “The position of the people, and the Arab position, is that we must end this situation urgently.” The sanctions went into effect immediately. 
The Syrian government denounced the League's moves. In a letter to the League sent just the day before the sanctions were imposed, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem, accused the organization of interfering "in Syria's internal affairs". 
Iraq and Lebanon both abstained from voting on the sanctions. Lebanon reportedly "disassociated itself" from the proceedings. The two countries are among Syria's key trading partners, thus reducing to a significant degree, the economic impact of the move. That Syria has taken in some 2 million Iraqi refugees since 2003 and stands as one of Iraq's significant trading partners, undoubtedly factored into its decision, as did Iraq's growing alignment with Iran, Syria's strongest ally in the region. Iraq accounts from 13.3% of Syria's trade at a value of USD 6.78bn. 
For a graphic of Syria's top trading partners, click here
For more on Lebanon's concerns about regional sanctions against Syria, click here
Syria was among the Arab League's founding members, thus rendering the move particularly humiliating. It is also the first time that the League has imposed sanctions against a member state since its formation in 1945
On Monday, November 28, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem held a press conference in response to the Arab League's decision to impose sanctions against the country. Moallem told the press that Damascus "does not recognize the Arab League decisions issued as it was deliberately absented, especially suspending its membership and imposing economic sanctions on the Syrian people."
''Our problem with neighboring countries is that they are smuggling weapons and funding gunmen and training them in special camps while Syria is extending a hand of cooperation to these countries to control the borders,'' Moallem continued.
During the conference, Moallem aired graphic footage of killed and maimed Syrian soldiers and security forces. Most controversial, was a segment that he claimed depicted fighters from Tripoli engaged in armed attacks against the Syrian government. The footage, however, was by nearly all accounts, recycled from unrelated events in Tripoli some three years before. 
Turkish government imposes sanctions on Syria
On Wednesday, November 30, Turkey announced that it is formally imposing sanctions against Syria, thereby suspending all financial dealings in the country, freezing all Syrian government assets, and imposing a travel ban on Syrian officials. Turkey will also block all military equipment and weapons set for delivery in Syria. 
Following the announcement of the move, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that the Syrian government had come "to the end of the road". "Every bullet fired, every bombed mosque has eliminated the legitimacy of the Syrian leadership and has widened the gap between us," Davutoglu said. 
"Syria has squandered the last chance that it was given" and "has entered a vicious circle of violence". "Syria must immediately cease using force on the people and the forces must immediately withdraw from the cities…Until a legitimate government which is at peace with its people is in charge in Syria, the mechanism of the High Level of Strategic Co-operation has been suspended," Davutoglu continued.
Turkey's move was commended by the Obama Administration in the US. “The leadership shown by Turkey in response to the brutality and violation of the fundamental rights of the Syrian people will isolate the Assad regime and send a strong message to Assad and his circle that their actions are unacceptable and will not be tolerated,” read a statement  by a White House spokesman, Tommy Vietor. In recent months, relations between Turkey and the United States (as well as Turkey and France) have warmed considerably, as the US view Turkey as integral to mitigating the Syria crisis. 
For more information on the scope of Turkish sanctions, click here.
Further Reading
"Some Syrian Oppositions Groups Want Intervention—Sort Of" - The Atlantic - Micah Zenko interrogates debate within the Syrian opposition over the issue of international intervention, putting forth plausible outcomes of a number of related scenarios. A good read. "Media Lies Used to Provide a Pretext for Another
"Humanitarian War": Protest in Syria: Who Counts the Dead?" - Global Research - Julie Lévesque evaluates that manner in which casualty and fatality reports from within Syria are often distorted by international media and warns of the unqualified use of unconfirmed statistics in reportage and related analysis. A politicized clip with elements that some will find quite controversial. 
"Bloody, Bloodier Paths for Syria" - Wall Street Journal - Nour Malas offers up a well-written assessment of the most likely scenarios for how the crisis in Syria will develop in the coming months. 
"A Guide to Sanctions on Syria" - PBS - Azmat Khan summarizes the nature and scope of all international sanctions against Damascus imposed over the course of the last year. 
"Syria's pre-Assad Past Could Be a Reassuring Omen for Its Future" - The Guardian - Syrian writer and consultant on Middle Eastern affairs, Rime Allaf, offers up an optimistic view of Syria's possible future, using the country's history as a guide. 
Syrian Future Scenarios" - Syria Comment - Ambassador Nikolaos van Dam evaluates future scenarios for Syria at length: 1) "a military coup d’etat which would pave the way for a transformation of the present Alawi-dominated Syrian Ba’thist dictatorship into another, somewhat more widely based dictatorship"; 2) "the continuation of the present regime for another undefined period, with some slow but steady reform measures which could in the end lead to a more peaceful regime change," and 3) "civil war". 
"Syria: The view from Next Door" - BBC - A concise backgrounder by Jim Muir covering the impact of Syria's crisis on each of its neighbors. Security and economic issues are covered. 
"Turn It Up" - Qunfuz - Two videos of Syrian opposition demonstrations, uplifting for their musicality. 
The Powder Keg that is Syria" - CBC - Though the media is rife with doomsday scenarios for Syria and most are not worth the time it takes to read them, this one by Brian Stewart is comparatively thoughtful, covering the ugly realities of proxy war. 
"Syrian Uprising Spills Over Into Lebanon's Raucous Political Scene" - New York Times - A good clip by Josh Wood covering the manner in which the revolution and political turmoil in Syria are impacting Lebanese politics. Wood covers the country's March 8 and March 15 coalitions which maintain opposing positions on the country's ties to Syria. 
"Keep Your Nationalism, Buzz-off Mine" - Walls - A blog post by 'Syrian Hamster' on patriotism, nationalism, and conceptions of exceptionalism in Syria. 
"Asad's Armed Opposition: The Free Syrian Army" - Washington Institute for Near East Policy - Jeffrey White covers the Free Syrian Army, its rise, organization, likely size, weapons, and operations. White concludes that by virtue of the FSA's increasingly significant role in the revolution, US officials should reach out to its members for the purposes of vetting their eligibility for aid from the US government. A troubling conclusion for those concerned that Syria is heading in the direction of, if not already in, civil war. 
"Civil War in Syria Must Be Averted" - Gulf News - Syria expert Patrick Seale makes the idealistic argument that the Syrian revolution needs a neutral contract group to work toward ending the country's worsening violence. According to Seale, "There must be a pause in which tempers are cooled, demonstrations and counter-demonstrations are halted, and a climate created in which a real dialogue can take place and real reforms agreed and implemented. The aim must be a peaceful transition to a different sort of regime, with effective guarantees for all sides."
Three clips from Jadaliyya:
"Arab League and US Not Fit to Intervene in Syria" - Bassam Haddad argues that, "condemning the [Syrian] regime's violence and opposing international intervention of any sort are not mutually exclusive, and that the best course of action is to leave the opposition to its own devices, as the regime seems to be heading in the direction of political and military suicide. Furthermore, the internal opposition seems to be growing in strength, a reality that is likely to produce fissures and serious splits within the regime and its armed forces about the best course of action. In this context, international intervention would only complicate matters…" (video)
"Who is Conspiring Against Syria?" -  Elias Khoury lambasts conspiratorial, revisionist rhetoric on the source and nature of the Syrian revolution and details the four great danger's of the uprising's future: 1) "the drift towards sectarian practices"; 2) "the use of arms"; 3) "external military intervention," and; 4) "the failure to give political work the full attention [it deserves]."
"Religion/Morality, Syria/Resistance: For Syria, What is 'Left'" - Part 2 of a series by Bassam Haddad. Haddad fiercely undercuts the very core of the Syrian government's claim to leading the resistance against Israel and the US, noting that today,"the Syrian regime is no longer identified as resisting very much except the will of most of its people. It is time to be able to see beyond the confines of the structural realities that decrepit regimes weaved around our lives and intellects--so much so that they have not only arrested our souls, but worse, suffocated our imagination. There is “resistance” outside the current Syrian regime just like there is morality outside religion, and probably for the better in both cases--at least for the left."
References made to articles, individuals, organizations or government bodies in this blog do not necessarily reflect or imply an endorsement by The Syria Report. The Syria News Blog is a news service offered by The Syria Report only for the purpose of recapping foreign reportage on matters pertaining to Syria.
Written by: Evelyn Aissa
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