Saturday 5 May 2012

Failed attempt on Russian experts in Damascus

The Faculty of Agriculture in al-Tijara district

Syrian rebels attempted to attack Russian experts residing in Damascus on Thursday.
Russia Today (RT), a government-funded global multilingual news network based in Russia, broke the news the same day in Arabic. The Syrian news network Syria-online carries the report without comment this morning.
RT said the armed group attacked the building housing the Russian experts and their families in the al-Tijara district of Damascus on Thursday morning. Al-Tijara district is home to Damascus University’s Faculty of Agriculture.
None of the Russian experts or their dependents was hurt, but one member of the security forces was injured in the attack, according to RT. It said two raiders were captured and the rest are on the run after making their way though a park to the adjoining al-Barza district.
RT said the “Syrian government contracted the services of Soviet experts 30 yeas ago,” without elaborating.
“Road to Damascus”
RT News Correspondent Sara Firth
Separately, RT Friday featured the 10th post in a series titled “Road to Damascus” authored by RT News Correspondent Sara Firth, who joined the Russian news network in November 2009 and holds a BA honors in Law and a PG Diploma in Investigative Journalism from City University London.
First day back and stoically Damascus seems to continue its attempt to keep up appearances. Life buzzes along. But it’s fraying at the edges and more than ever you can feel the undercurrent of tension here.
It’s there when we drive down a side street near the centre (to pop to a pharmacy) only to run into a plain-clothes security officer pointing a Kalashnikov directly at us as we slam on the breaks. Apparently we’d caught him off guard – no harm done.
But the reaction, the increased security presence in itself here, are all telltale signs of the toll taken by months of conflict in the country, which have seen the fight come right to Damascus’ doorstep.
People seem weary here -- weary and wary.
Questions about the upcoming parliamentary elections or the observer mission are not met with much optimism.
So far there are about 30 monitors here, around 100 more are expected to join towards the end of the month – the total should be around 300.
The head of the mission, Maj. Gen. Robert Mood, has said even 1000 observers wouldn’t be enough.
George Jabour, a former government adviser and political speaker I spoke to today agreed:
“It has to come from the Syrian people – success is in the hands of the Syrians essentially.”
When I asked him what else was needed he said:
“Killing does not lead to a solution. Talking does. Dialogue does. Dialogue should start. I suppose that the minute this dialogue starts the violence will be less.”
Now that has its preconditions of course. It should be a suitable environment – an environment that does not exist right now.
But this suitable environment can be created through dialogue. You cannot have a totally suitable environment in advance of the dialogue.
The dialogue precedes and aids its own conditions of success.
A bit of a chicken and egg problem if ever there was one, but it reminded me of a conversation I’d had earlier in the day.
Discussing the observer mission a friend and I had tried to recall the six points of the peace plan.
Obviously there was ending the violence.
It’s the main and arguably most vital point. End the bloodshed.
And what about the other points? Well, they are loosely:
  1. Commit to work with the Envoy in an inclusive Syrian-led political process
  2. Cessation of violence.
  3. Humanitarian assistance – with a 2-hour daily ceasefire.
  4. Release of political prisoners.
  5. Access and freedom of movement for journalists
  6. Right to demonstrate peacefully
The observer mission has already noted violations being carried out by both sides.
Many of the points continue to be openly flouted.
A huge number of people I’ve spoken to today have serious concerns about the level of detentions that are still being carried out.
They include young people and activists. And the news came today that two sons of Fayez Sara, an independent and well-respected opposition figure, had been taken from their homes. Bassam Sara and Wissam Sara (who I think is just 26) both have children of their own.
It’s still not clear where they were taken and by whom, but the assumption is that they’ve been detained by security forces.
Yet whilst ending the violence, with its noblest intentions, is talked about constantly, I’ve barely heard a word breathed about progress or plans regarding detentions.
Then whilst discussing the peace plan and the UN’s implementation of it, the person I was talking to said something that made so much sense to me.
“Perhaps the observers have got it the wrong way around. Perhaps everyone is so concerned with ending the violence that the other points are being overlooked. Until you put a stop to people being detained without charge, until you have freedom to demonstrate peacefully, how can you ever hope to achieve an end to the violence?”
Perhaps, my friend pondered, they should work through that list backwards and the first point should be the last point to be achieved.