Sunday 5 May 2013

The extermination of the Sunnis of Banias

Women and children purposely massacred in Banias

Heard the latest blah, blah, blah by the State Department's Jen Psaki on the massacre in the Bayda suburb of Banias?
Here goes, in case you did not (the highlighting is mine):
The United States is appalled by horrific reports that more than 100 people were killed May 2 in gruesome attacks on the coastal town of al-Bayda, Syria. Regime and Shabiha forces reportedly destroyed the area with mortar fire then stormed the town and executed entire families, including women and children. We extend our deepest condolences to the families of the victims of this tragedy.
We strongly condemn atrocities against the civilian population and reinforce our solidarity with the Syrian people. As the Assad regime’s violence against innocent civilians escalates, we will not lose sight of the men, women, and children whose lives are being so brutally cut short.
We call on all responsible actors in Syria to speak out against the perpetration of unlawful killings against any group, regardless of faith or ethnicity. Those responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law and serious violations and abuses of human rights law must be held accountable.
Internationally acclaimed Saudi journalist Abdulrahman al-Rashed, who heads Alarabiya TV news channel, says although they are pained by the West’s indifference to regime crimes in Syria, “the Arabs stand watching in anger and sadness without doing much.”
Here is my paraphrasing of his column today for the leading Saudi daily Asharq Alawsat, titled “The extermination of the Sunnis of Banias”:
The small Syrian coastal town of Banias has a population of some 50,000.
They are a sectarian mix of Sunnis, Alawites and Christians and an ethnic Arab and Turcoman blend.
We repeatedly heard of Banias on two occasions.
The first was when there was ceaseless talk of sanctions on Iraqi oil exports in the early Nineties, when Iraqi oil was being pumped through the Kirkuk-Banias pipeline that was built in the early Fifties.
The pipeline fed crude to both the Banias oil refinery and sea terminal.
The second instance was when Banias made the headlines in May 2011, barely eight weeks into the Syrian uprising.
Following is what I excerped from a May 2011 Reuters dispatch, explaining what happened then:
AMMAN (Reuters) - Syrian tanks stormed the mostly Sunni Muslim city of Banias on Saturday (May 8, 2011), a rights campaigner said, raising sectarian tension in a country swept by protests against the rule of authoritarian President Bashar al-Assad.
The attack came hours after the United States, reacting to the death of 27 protesters on Friday, threatened to take new steps against Syria's rulers, from the Alawite sect, unless they stopped killing and harassing their people.
The army entered Banias, a Mediterranean coastal city of 50,000 people, from three directions, advancing into Sunni districts but not Alawite neighborhoods, the campaigner said.
Most communication with Banias has been cut but the campaigner said he was able to contact several residents.
"Residents are reporting the sound of heavy gunfire and seeing Syrian navy boats off the Banias coast. Sunni and mixed neighborhoods are totally besieged now," said the campaigner, who did not want to be identified for security reasons.
Rami Abdul Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights based in London, told Reuters that regular army units were present in the center of Banias but the authorities had now sent special units into the northern side of the city.
"They are conducting search operation in several areas. The army has lists and looking for people based on it," he said.
"They have raided Bayda, Basateen and the Baseya suburbs."
Rights group Sawasiah said in statement that the number of civilians killed since pro-democracy demonstrations broke out seven weeks ago has reached 800. It added that there were cuts in landline, Internet and cellphone lines with Banias as army units backed by tanks swept into its districts...
…State authorities said Banias was a "center of Salafist terrorism" and that armed groups had killed soldiers near the city. Salafism is an ultra-conservative brand of Sunni Islam.
Most Banias residents have been besieged and virtually confined to their homes since – a total of two years.
It’s not surprising, given the tension, for the coastal city to be a sectarian fault line -- especially that it is an extension of areas where the majority is from Assad’s Alawite sect.
Assad’s endgame plan is to create an Alawite state in the an-Nusayriyah Mountains down to the Mediterranean coast region. This means he intends ethnically cleansing Sunni areas within or bordering the planned enclave.
It looks like he already started the ethnic cleansing campaign with this week’s twin massacres in Banias town and the Bayda suburb.
The result was the flight en masse of their Sunni inhabitants to safer spots, especially after it emerged women and children were specifically knifed to death and men executed with a bullet to the head.
What can be done to save peoples’ lives against a killer regime that does not give a hoot about world public opinion, having realized that killing thousands of unarmed civilians does not fall within the red lines set for it?
What pains in all this are the West’s indifference and Russia and Iran siding with Assad.
While the West, Russia and Iran are far and away, the Arabs stand watching in anger and sadness without doing much.
The Arabs filled the world with protests against offensive cartoons, but we see hardly any reactions and demands as concerns Syria.
Greater support could be accorded the Free Syrian Army.
Arab governments could be made accountable for a political demand to bring down the Syrian regime.
The Arab street is at boiling point. Its explosion one day could prove bigger than we imagined.
Don’t let the massacres go unchallenged – not without counter-measures commensurate with the crime.