November 24, 2011 - Syria News Blog: A Roundup of International Reportage

In the News | 24-11-2011

UN General Assembly Votes in Favor of Resolution Against Syria, Violence Continues Unabated

Arab League efforts to deploy a pan-Arab observer force to Syria collapsed over the weekend following the League's refusal to accept Damascus's proposed amendments to the protocol. Violence spiked mid-week, with some 28 people killed in security crackdowns and clashes on Tuesday. The same day, the UN General Assembly voted in favor of a resolution against Syria condemning "the continued grave and systematic human rights violations by the Syrian authorities" and calling upon Damascus to "immediately put an end to all human rights violations" and protect Syrian civilians. 

The Syrian Revolution
Reports emerged the same day that Baath Party Headquarters in Damascus had been hit by rocket-propelled grenades. Media coverage of the events was dodgy, however, with a number of reports suggesting that the Free Syrian Army had claimed responsibility for the attack while other reports charged that the FSA had denied any responsibility, and still others claiming that while reports of the attack were rampant, no evidence could be found that it had indeed happened - and to that end, the building exhibits no signs of damage.
Just the day before, some 14 people were killed during security crackdowns, primarily in the city of Homs. 
On Monday, attacks were also carried against two buses carrying Turkish nationals and traveling near Homs. The attacks left a number of the passengers wounded and allegedly came in retaliation against Turkey for its hardened stance against Damascus. A Saudi citizen, Hussein bin Bandar bin Khalaf al-Anzi, was also killed in a security crackdown in Homs that day.  
According to a recent report published in The National, the city of Hama, the focal point of the revolution at the start of the summer, is now a "city of ghosts" as a consequence of ongoing security problems. Hama officials claim that armed militants continue to make havoc in the city. Security forces remained stationed throughout the city proper. The report was released by local journalist Phil Sands.
Meanwhile, the Free Syrian Army has reportedly amassed a number of defectors who are currently exiled in Lebanon not far from the country's border with Syria. Others are sent to man border areas near their home villages. It remains unclear how large their numbers are. Reports suggest that they are at present, relatively disorganized. 
The central city of Homs has, by nearly all foreign accounts, fallen into sectarian conflict with confessional tit-for-tat killings now dominating the city's security issues. For recent reportage on the city's sectarian violence, see this report by Anthony Shadid for the New York Times
President Assad - "We, as a state, do not have a policy to be cruel with citizens"
In an interview with the UK Sunday Times over the weekend, President Bashar al-Assad reiterated claims by Syrian authorities that the government is fighting against armed militants. 
"You have to ask who killed 800 officers, soldiers and policemen on the streets, so we are not talking about peaceful demonstrators, we are talking about militants," the President said. "Whenever you have militants you have killings so the role of the government is to fight the militants in order to restore stability and to protect the civilians. Not by leaving them to do what they want to do. This is our job and that's what we are doing," he continued.  
President Assad also accused the 22-member Arab League, which officially suspended Syria's membership last week, of interfering in Syria's internal affairs and laying the groundwork for western intervention. 
"If they [the Arab League] are logical, rational and realistic, they shouldn't do it because the repercussions are very dire. Military intervention will destabilize the region as a whole, and all countries will be affected,” President Assad said.  
President Assad also disputed the countless reports of civilian casualties numbering in the thousands (the UN's official estimate as of a few weeks ago was 3,500 - however, reports suggest that perhaps some 200 more people have since died). According to the president, the number of civilians killed since March is 619. 
"I'm here to serve the country; my country is not here to serve me. It's not about me it's about Syria. The problem is not about the President it's about the stability of Syria and how we can keep Syria unified," the President stated. 
"We're going to have a new parliament. After that, we're going to have a new government. We're going to have a new constitution. That constitution will set the basis of how to elect a president. If the President is a factor in unifying the country he has to stay. If he's a factor of dividing the country he has to leave. This is the principle," he continued.  
Syrian National Council announces political program
On Sunday, November 20, the Syrian National Council announced that it had developed an official political program with the intent of building a "democratic, pluralistic, and civil state" by the means listed (in abbreviated form) below:
"Breaking down the existing regime, including all of its operatives and symbols.
Preserving, protecting, and enhancing the peaceful nature of the popular revolution.
Uniting the efforts by the revolutionary movement and the political opposition.
Garnering Arab and international support at the individual, public opinion, and official levels.
Focusing efforts to support the peaceful revolution; continuing and increasing acts of civil disobedience.
Mobilizing both the Arab and international societies to increase pressure on the regime by all possible means.
Diversifying the means and methods of the revolutionary movement…
Working to secure international protection for civilians and supporting joint Arab and international means to secure its implementation within international agencies in the shortest amount of time possible.
Communicating with committees and action groups participating in the revolution to further mobilize the population and extend the reach of the SNC.
Enhancing communication and encouraging initiatives and activities among professional groups, business community, intellectuals, and others.
Maintaining a positive and flexible outlook towards all political opposition forces that are not part of the SNC, and working with them towards joining the SNC...
Giving the diversity of Syrian society the appropriate focus…
Pursuing the official recognition of the SNC by Arab and foreign states."
The SNC's political program for what it termed the country's "Transitional Period" would be as follows: 
"The SNC will take responsibility, with the military apparatus, to manage the transitional period and guarantee the security and unity of the country once the regime falls.
The SNC will form a transitional government to manage the affairs of the state.
The SNC will call for a national and all-inclusive convention with the theme of “democratic change” to implement a program and outline for the transitional period…
The transitional government is responsible for creating the appropriate conditions for organizing political life in the country...
Within one year at most, the interim government will organize free elections with Arab and international observers to elect a Constitutional Assembly tasked with drafting a new constitution for the country that is then voted on by the people in a referendum.
Free parliamentary elections shall be held within six months, in accordance with the new constitution.
The SNC will continue to implement its founding declaration concerning the preservation of state institutions, especially the military institution, throughout the transitional period…
Releasing detainees and prisoners; investigating the fate of those who are missing; ensuring the safe return of refugees and those in exile; and compensating the families of fallen heroes, the injured, and all those who were victimized.
The formation of an independent judicial commission whose task is to receive citizens’ grievances and investigate crimes committed against the people, and punishing those found guilty.
The formation of a national reconciliation commission in collaboration with civil society organizations, human rights groups, and volunteers to cleanse all residue from the era of corruption and tyranny.
Criminalizing all forms of oppression, exclusionary policies, and discrimination on the basis of ethnic or religious background, or gender."
The SNC's political program for what it termed "The New Syria" would be as follows: 
"The new Syria is a democratic, pluralistic, and civil state; a parliamentary republic with sovereignty of the people based on the principles of equal citizenship with separation of powers, smooth transfer of power, the rule of law, and the protection and guarantee of the rights of minorities.
The new Syria guarantees for all its citizens what is declared by international laws in terms of human rights and basic freedom of belief, opinion, expression, assembly, the press, and other rights. In addition, all of its inhabitants will enjoy equal rights and duties without any discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, religion, or gender.
The government is committed to ambitious plans for economic and human development.
The new Syria is committed to combating poverty and focusing on developing disadvantaged areas. It regards achieving justice and equal opportunity among all citizens to be a national duty.
To achieve equity in the distribution of national wealth, since national resources belong to all Syrians in the context of good governance, and directing benefits from development to raising the capabilities and standard of living of all sectors of society and all regions, particularly the most disadvantaged.
The new Syria is committed to eradicating illiteracy and providing factual information to the general population.
The new Syria, with its civil and democratic system and constitution, provides the best assurance to all Syrians from all ethnic, religious, and sectarian backgrounds.
The constitution guarantees national rights for the Kurdish people and a resolution to the Kurdish question in a democratic and fair manner within the framework of the unity of Syrian territory and people, as well as the exercise of rights and responsibilities of equal citizenship among all citizens.
The constitution guarantees national rights for the Assyrian people and a resolution to the Assyrian Syriac question in a democratic and fair manner within the framework of the unity of Syrian territory and people, as well as the exercise of rights and responsibilities of equal citizenship among all citizens.
The new Syria guarantees full rights of women, including ensuring their effective participation in political life and all other sectors.
The new Syrian state will have a positive role and impact on the stability of the Arab and regional system as well as on the international level.
The new Syria will work to restore its sovereignty in the occupied Golan Heights on the basis of relevant and legitimate international laws and resolutions.
The new Syria will support the full and legitimate rights of the Palestinian people.
The new Syria will promote Arab and regional solidarity and cooperation, and will build relations with other states on the basis of mutual respect and national interests."
To read view the SNC political program in its entirety in English or Arabic, click here
International Crisis Group releases new report - the crisis in Syria has entered its most dangerous phase yet
Today, November 24, the International Crisis Group released a new report, "Uncharted Waters: Thinking Through Syria's Dynamics," which charges that the current phase of the country's crisis is "defined by an explosive mix of heightened strategic stakes tying into a regional and wider international competition on the one hand and emotionally charged attitudes, communal polarisation and political wishful thinking on the other". Some excerpts from the report's overview:
"As dynamics in both Syria and the broader international arena turn squarely against the regime, reactions are ranging from hysterical defiance on the part of its supporters, optimism among protesters that a bloody stalemate finally might end and fears of sectarian retribution or even civil war shared by many, through to triumphalism among those who view the crisis as an historic opportunity to decisively tilt the regional balance of power.
Yet, almost entirely missing is a sober assessment of the challenges provoked by these shifts and the very real risk that they could derail or even foreclose the possibility of a successful transition. In particular, five issues likely to shape events have been absent from the public debate: the fate of the Alawite community;
the connection between Syria and Lebanon; the nature and implications of heightened international involvement; the long-term impact of the protest movement’s growing militarisation; and the legacy of creeping social, economic and institutional decay."
The report charges that simplistic narratives of the current crisis compromise finding its solution. "Uncharted Waters" is arguablly the best of the International Crisis Group's reports on the Syrian revolution. To read the report in full, click here
International Politics & Diplomacy 
Clinton on Syria - "It's probably too late" for President Assad "to change course"
On November 18, ABC's Jake Tapper interview US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton while Clinton was traveling in Indonesia with US President Obama. The interview covered a number of topics, Syria among them. Interview excerpts below:
QUESTION: Syria was just kicked out of the Arab League. What’s next for the U.S. to change the situation and change the leadership? What can actually be done without taking steps along the lines of what was done in Libya?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Jake, what’s so important about this – and I think our diplomacy has had something to do with it – is we recognized early on that we were not the voice most likely to be heeded by the Syrians. ...
And so what we’ve encouraged, in addition to our statements, is a growing chorus that now consists of the Arab League and Turkey that cannot be ignored by Syria. … We’ve urged Syria, along with everyone else, to truly negotiate, to protect peaceful protestors. They’ve ignored all of us.
QUESTION: You at one point seemed to have optimism that Assad was a reformer.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we had hoped so, because there was a lot at stake. We wanted to see an agreement, for example, between Syria and Israel. That was something that people have been working on for 30 years. We heard what Assad said about what he wanted to do for reform. But when it came to it in the Arab Spring, and his people actually demanded some freedom and their rights, he responded as we have seen – very violently.
But he’s not going to be able to sustain what is an unfortunately growing, armed opposition, apparently fueled and maybe led by defectors from his army. It’s probably too late for him to change course, but there needs to be a change at the top of that government, and there needs to be an effort to engage in genuine dialogue and start on the path of reform.
To view or read the interview in its entirety, click here.
Arab League rejects Syria's demand to alter protocol allowing pan-Arab observer force
On November 20, the Arab League rejected Syria's proposed changes to the protocol that would have allowed a body of 500 pan-Arab observers to enter Syria. Syria had proposed to amend the plan for the observer force in a manner that would "fundamentally change" and constrain the nature of the mission. According to reports, the proposed changes included reducing the size of the mission from 500 to 40.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallim responded to the League's rejection of its proposed changes by stating that "parts of the Arab world" were using the League as a "tool" to ensnare the UN Security Council in the country's crisis. 
Israeli Defense Minster Ehud Barak - President Assad is "beyond the point of no return"
Speaking at a defense summit on Sunday, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, "I think that he went beyond the point of no return, no way that he will he resume his authority or legitimacy." Barak continued, "And it's clear to me that what happened a few weeks ago to Gaddafi... and what happened ultimately to Saddam Hussein, now might await him."
UK officials hold meeting with members of the Syrian opposition
In London on Monday, November 21, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague and Prime Minister David Cameron met with members of the Syrian opposition from the Syrian National Council and the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change.  The meeting was intended to compel the opposition to better organize and unite, while increasing pressure on Damascus
Britain has not yet formally recognized the Syrian opposition, in large part because opposition remains significantly divided. 
Turkish Prime Minister calls on President Assad to leave office
On Monday, November 21, during a speech at an international conference in Istanbul on religion, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in remarks directed at Syrian President al-Assad that, "You can only continue with tanks and guns to a certain point, the day will come when you will go. Sooner or later, the oppressed will win." 
Erdogan's remarks came the same day that Syrian security forces opened fire on two buses travel near Homs, containing Turkish nationals. 
The following day during a televised speech, Erdogan stepped up his threats, this time calling upon President Assad to leave office. It was the first time that Erdogan had used such imposing language. "For the welfare of your own people and the region, just leave that seat," Erdogan said. "If you want to see someone who has fought until death against his own people, just look at Nazi Germany, just look at Hitler, at Mussolini, at Nicolae Ceausescu in Romania. If you cannot draw any lessons from these, then look at the Libyan leader who was killed just 32 days ago," Erdogan continued.'
US State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland - Ambassador Ford will return to Damascus 
At a US State Department briefing on November 21, spokeswoman Victoria Nuland addressed a number of questions on the Syria issue, as well as on whether US Ambassador Ford would return to his post in Damascus. Abbreviated excerpts below:
QUESTION: Syria. Is Ambassador Ford going back today? And if not today, is he still going to get there before Thanksgiving?
MS. NULAND: Ambassador Ford is not going back today. …We are now in a process of consulting with our allies and partners on appropriate timing for his return. We do still intend for him to go back, but the precise timing is under discussion with a number of other countries, and we’re consulting on that. I think our issue here is to ensure that when he goes back, not only is he safe, not only is Syria willing to live up to its Vienna Convention obligations, but also that he can be effective in getting out and meeting with people…
QUESTION: ...the three-day deadline given by the Arab League, it has come and gone, and apparently the Syrians have not acted on the recommendations. What do you expect to see next? What do you expect the Arab League to do next?
MS. NULAND: …the Arab League needs to make its own decisions about how it will increase the pressure on the Syrian Government … not only has the Syrian Government done virtually nothing to meet its – the commitments that it reportedly originally made to the Arab League, but it’s continuing to kill its own citizens. And as you know, the Arab League took issue with the Syrian Government’s effort to weaken and water down some of the commitments it had made, particularly with regard to human rights observers...
QUESTION: Do you have a general idea of which areas that can really hurt the regime most, that you can impose a sanctions in the next, let’s say, week or two, if the situation calls for it?
MS. NULAND: Well, you’ve seen that – what we have done, that we have done what we can to cut off the revenues that Syria makes from hydrocarbons. We have done our best to sanction individuals who we think are responsible for violence. We have certainly called for other countries to match these steps, and also to renounce the sending of weapons to the Syrian regime. So those kinds of steps – steps that match ours, that match the EU’s steps – would be most welcome, and we think would increase the pressure on the Asad regime.
To read the entire transcript, click here
UN General Assembly's Human Rights Committee votes in favor of resolution against Syria
On November 22, the UN General Assembly's Human Rights Committee voted 122 in favor of a resolution condemning the Syrian government's crackdown against the opposition. The resolution was drafted by Britain, France, and Germany. In total, the resolution received 122 votes in favor, 13 against and 41 abstentions. Jordan, Bahrain, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and Egypt were among the Arab states that voted for it. China and Russia, which had both vetoed a UN Security Council Resolution against Syria a month prior, both abstained.   
The resolution's text is as follows:
The UN General Assembly,
1) "Strongly condemns the continued grave and systematic human rights violations by the Syrian authorities, such as arbitrary executions, excessive use of force and the persecution and killing of protesters and human rights defenders, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, torture and ill treatment of detainees, including children; 
2) Calls upon the Syrian authorities to immediately put an end to all human rights violations, to protect their population and to fully comply with their obligations under international human rights law, and calls for an immediate end to all violence in the Syrian Arab Republic; 3) Also calls upon the Syrian authorities to implement the Plan of Action of the League of Arab States in its entirety without further delay; 4) Invites the Secretary-General, in accordance with his functions, to provide support, if requested, to the League of Arab States observer mission in the Syrian Arab Republic, consistent with the League’s decisions of 12 and 16 November 2011; 5) Calls upon the Syrian authorities to comply with Human Rights Council resolutions S-16/13 and S-17/1,4 including by cooperating fully and effectively with the independent international commission of inquiry."
Syria's ambassador to the UN, Bashar Jaafari, responded to the vote by noting that it means nothing to Syria and only reflects US-inspired political motives. "Despite the fact that the draft resolution was basically presented by three European states, however it is no secret that the United States of America is ... the main mind behind the political campaign against my country," he said.
To read the text of the UN resolution in full, click here
H-P computers used in Syrian surveillance program
The California-based company Hewlett-Packard Co., (H-P) is the latest in a string of foreign companies implicated in recent probes to determine which international companies are linked to the Syrian government's programs to surveil Syrian citizens' internet activities. According to a report released by Bloomberg on November 18, some USD 500,000 worth of H-P equipment has been installed in computer rooms in Damascus used by intelligence officers for such purposes
American, Canadian, German web servers hosting Syrian government sites could be in violation of sanctions 
According to Ron Deibert, director of Citizen Lab, a research group associated with the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto, web servers based in the US, Canada, and Germany that are currently hosting websites owned by the Syrian government, could be in violation of international sanctions against Damascus. 
Deibert's report, "The Canadian Connection: An Investigation of Syrian Government and Hezbollah Web Hosting in Canada", indicates that some 17 Syrian government sites are hosted by Canadian servers, with another seven and two hosted by the US and Germany, respectively. 
Further Reading
"Framing Syria" - Jadaliyya - Amal Hanano writes one of the best critiques of reportage on the crisis in Syria thus far, using examples of reportage by Robert Fisk, Nir Rosen, and Sofia Amara to great effect.
"Reporting Syria" - Qunfuz - Another take on reportage on the Syrian revolution, this time by blogger Robin Yassin-Kassab, addressing issues brought up by Amal Hanano and taken them a step further. 
"Why Syria's Revolution Needs a Benghazi" - MSNBC - Among the most inflammatory and arguably troubling articles posted in the last week, Ayman Mohyeldin, charges that the Syrian uprising needs to be weaponized to succeed.
"Syria's Civil War?" - Al Jazeera - Mustafa el-Labbad, director of Al Sharq Centre for Regional and Strategic Studies, Dimitry Babich, political analyst, Russia Profile Magazine; and Abdulhamit Bilici, a columnist for Today’s Zaman, and general manager for Cihan News Agency, debate the direction in which the crisis in Syria is heading. Video clip.
"Turkey's Hard Stance on Syria Hides its Conflicted Loyalties" - The National - Henri Barkey assesses Turkey's response to the crisis in Syria, factoring in domestic and regional security concerns as well as economic ties. 
"Syria Needs Mediation, Not a Push Into All-out Civil War" - The Guardian - Jonathan Steele argues that the Arab League's move to suspend Syria's membership will push Damascus into a "dangerous corner", increasing the likelihood of it collapsing into civil war. 
"Jonathan Steele Needs Medication" - Nuff Silence - Syrian blogger Nuff Silence offers up a counterpoint to Steele's article, noting that the international community, members of the Arab League included, has given Damascus numerous opportunities to bring an end to the violence in Syria - all to no avail.
"Syrian Opposition Figure al-Homsi: We Need a United Front" - Ahram Online - An interview with opposition member Maamoun Al-Homsi. Homsi heavily criticizes the Syrian National Council and the response of regional leaders to the crisis.
"Armed Groups Are on Rise in Syria, as Are Civil War Fears" - New York Times - Nada Bakri covers concerns that attacks by the Free Syrian Army on the country's security and military forces are moving Syria closer to civil war. 
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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