Thursday 30 August 2012

Egypt’s Morsi deals Assad a body blow from Tehran

Morsi addressing the NAM summit in Tehran

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi poured cold water today on Iran’s frenzied endeavors to keep Syrian President Bashar al-Assad afloat.
With Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seated by his side, Morsi told the opening session of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit in Tehran the “oppressive” Assad regime has “lost its legitimacy” and must go.
Egypt, he said, stands behind the Syrian people and their struggle for “dignity, freedom” and “a new Syria.”
“Our solidarity with the struggle of the Syrian people against an oppressive regime that has lost its legitimacy is an ethical duty, and a political and strategic necessity,” Morsi said.
“We all have to express our full solidarity with the struggle of those seeking freedom and justice in Syria, and translate this sympathy into a clear political vision that supports a peaceful transition to a democratic system of governance that reflects the demands of the Syrian people for freedom.”  
Morsi’s remarks certainly did not sit well with his Iranian hosts who remain committed to Assad, and caused the Syrian delegation to leave the conference hall.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem later accused Morsi of using his speech to incite further bloodshed in Syria.
Significantly, the Syrian delegation to the NAM summit walked out as soon as Morsi addressed the Syrian issue in his speech.
It was the third time in a week that the Egyptian president specifically called for showing Assad the door.
Speaking to Reuters before travelling this week to China and Iran, two countries which, along with Russia, have so far opposed Arab and Western calls to end Assad’s rule, Morsi said, “Now is the time to stop this bloodshed and for the Syrian people to regain their full rights and for this regime that kills its people to disappear from the scene… There is no room to talk about reform, but the discussion is about change.”
Yesterday again, the French presidency said the Egyptian president agreed in a telephone conversation with François Hollande that there could be no political solution for Syria “without the departure of Bashar al-Assad.”
But Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei would have none of that. He told UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a meeting on the eve of the summit: “The bitter truth about Syria is that a number of governments have compelled the groups opposing the Syrian government to wage war on it at their behest.”
Thus, Khamenei said, “prevention of arms shipment to irresponsible (opposition) groups” is the sine qua non of a solution in Syria.
Assad himself was meanwhile telling his cousin’s Addounia TV in an interview aired yesterday that he was “fighting a regional and global war, so time is needed to win it.” He said, “Defections are a positive process. Generally, it is self-cleansing of the state and the nation.”
“Cleaning, Cleansing and the Shiite Crescent” is the title Lebanese political analyst Zuhair Qusaybati chooses for his op-ed published today by the pan-Arab daily al-Hayat.
After the “cleansing” process assumed by warplanes, tanks and missiles left about 4,000 Syrians dead this month, Qusaybati writes, it took someone like Gen. Salar Abnoush, commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ “Saheb el-Amr” unit to lay bare Iran’s unbridled involvement in the Syria violence.
"Today we are involved in fighting every aspect of a war, a military one in Syria and a cultural one as well," Gen. Abnoush told volunteer trainees in a speech Monday.
No wonder, Qusaybati writes, that Assad remains confident of stifling the opposition, even at the price of tens of thousands of fatalities.
Moreover, “isn’t Tehran always in the habit of saying what it doesn’t do and doing what it wouldn’t say as regards confessional incitement liable to destroy Muslim countries?”
Since Khamenei chooses to lambast the West’s “arrogance” at every opportunity, how come he never mentions the “arrogance” of Russia and its lock-jawed reaction to the daily killings of children in Syria? Qusaybati asks.
How can Iran offer with one hand to reconcile the Syrian opposition and the regime and deliver with the other hand hundreds of missiles to its ally in Damascus?
Qusaybati goes on to quote from a Wall Street Journal report this week about Iran sending troops to bolster the Assad regime:
In Tehran, Syrian National Reconciliation Minister Ali Haidar met Monday with several Iranian officials and expressed Syria's gratitude. “The people of Syria will never forget the support of Iran during these difficult times,” Mr. Haidar said, according to Iranian media.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final word in all state matters, has appointed Qasem Soleimani, the commander of the elite Quds Forces, to spearhead military cooperation with Mr. Assad and his forces, according to an IRGC member in Tehran with knowledge about deployments to Syria.
The Quds Forces are the IRGC’s operatives outside Iran, responsible for training proxy militants and exporting the revolution's ideology. The U.S. blames the Quds Forces for terrorist attacks in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“Soleimani has convinced Mr. Khamenei that Iran’s borders extend beyond geographic frontiers, and fighting for Syria is an integral part of keeping the Shiite Crescent intact,” said the IRGC member in Tehran. The so-called Crescent, which came together after Saddam Hussein’s fall, includes Shiites from Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria…
Qusaybati says Iraq has become a “major component” of the so-called “Axis of Resistance” alongside Iran, Syria and Lebanese Hezbollah. “The Iraqi opposition that toppled Saddam Hussein is now facing the twin-dictatorship of the proxy (a reference to Iraqi Premier Nouri al-Maliki) and the principal (Iran). If not, who is hindering the unity of Iraq and its people? Who is bombing, killing, torturing and pillaging and smuggling Iraq’s cash?”
When Iran and the Assad regime speak of a “global war” on Syria, with Russia, China and Iraq remaining seated in the stands as spectators, it is no surprise seeing MIG-23’s chasing Syrian women and children all the way to their home basements.
How many more Arab children must die for Iran to fulfill its dream? Qusaybati asks.

Tuesday 28 August 2012

French president shows Syria opposition the way

President François Hollande addressing French ambassadors yesterday

Will the Syrian opposition have the wisdom to close ranks and take up the baton from French President François Hollande?
I exhort them to do so at all costs and without delay or hem and haw. They would instantly trump the Syrian regime and be recognized by a world power and permanent member of the UN Security Council as sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people.
Here is what Hollande said yesterday in reference to the Syria crisis during an annual foreign policy speech to French ambassadors, his first as president:
…The second challenge is the Syria crisis.
The principle is simple: Bashar al-Assad must go. There is no political solution with him. He is a threat. He continues, with unprecedented violence, to massacre people, destroy cities and cause the death of women and children. We had further proof of that in the last few days. This is unbearable to the human conscience and unacceptable as regards security and stability in the region. The International Criminal Court should be seized of the matter so that those responsible for these atrocities could be judged one day.
I want to be clear: France assumes all her responsibilities and spares no effort to ensure the Syrian people attain their freedom and security.
To achieve this, we have to overcome hurdles at the Security Council; our foreign affairs minister is working on that. We will have another go because the Syria crisis is a threat to everyone, chiefly to Syria’s neighbors. We will keep up as much as necessary the pressure and persuasion at the Security Council to arrive at an international community consensus. But for now, we must act.
First, we have to intensify efforts to ensure the political transition takes place as soon as possible. In this context, France asks the Syrian opposition to form a provisional government — inclusive and representative — that can become the legitimate representative of the new Syria. We urge our Arab partners to quicken this step and France will recognize the provisional government of the new Syria once it is formed.
Furthermore, and without holding back, we provide strong support to those striving on the ground for a free and democratic Syria that upholds the security of all its communities. We mainly help those setting up liberated areas on Syrian territory. We’re working on the buffer zones proposed by Turkey. We are doing so in tandem with our closest partners. Lastly, and I say so in all seriousness, we remain – together with our allies – very much on our guard to prevent the use of chemical weapons by the regime, which would provide legitimate cause for direct intervention by the international community.
I am aware of the difficulty of the task and I assess the risks but the stakes are greater than Syria – they concern the overall security of the Middle East, and particularly Lebanon’s independence and stability.
Want to know Washington’s reaction to President Hollande’s speech?
Some dilly-dallying at yesterday’s State Department press briefing, where spokesperson Victoria Nuland was asked:
QUESTION: Well, I was going to ask about – the French President has called on the Syrian opposition to form a provisional government, and he said that France would recognize that provisional government. I wonder if the U.S. has a position on that? Would you support that move, and do you think it’s a viable endeavor at the moment?
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, we have been working with the Syrian opposition for some time as it’s worked through its own code of conduct and its own planning for a transitional government. We have been encouraging the opposition to begin thinking – both the opposition outside Syria, the opposition inside Syria – about the plan that it put forward on July 3rd, and if that were to be implemented, who it might want to have in its transitional government.
But as you know, they are continuing to confer among themselves. What’s most important is that, moving forward, the Syrian opposition outside Syria and the Syrian opposition inside Syria coordinate and collaborate both in terms of the kind of Syria that they want to see -– this code of conduct -– but also in terms of the transitional structures that they would support and the emerging leaders that they see. But those conversations continue with Syrians inside and outside.
French President François Hollande’s speech came as Syrian activists continued the body count in Darayya, a township on the outskirts of Damascus, where government troops killed hundreds over the last week.
The activists have now put the Darayya death toll at 384. They posted a log on the internet showing the full names and ages of the civilians killed from three days of heavy shelling culminating in a ground attack last Saturday, when Syrian government troops and allied militiamen went from door to door summarily executing men, women and children.
Going through the log, I counted among the dead 41 females, ten infants and 12 boys and girls aged between three and 18 years.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon’s spokesman Martin Nesirky yesterday said, “The secretary-general is certainly shocked by those reports and he strongly condemns this appalling and brutal crime… This needs to be investigated immediately, in an independent and impartial fashion.”

Monday 27 August 2012

Call for decisive and urgent intervention in Syria

This op-ed piece by Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist now heading Saudi billionaire Prince Walid bin Talal’s new Arabic news channel Al Arab launching at year’s end, appears in Arabic today in the Saudi-owned newspaper al-Hayat
It’s time Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Jordan intervened militarily to end the Syria crisis.
Why shouldn’t they when the situation there is getting worse by the day?
They don’t need a Security Council resolution under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.
During the Jordanian-Palestinian war of September 1970, Hafez Assad massed his troops along the border with Jordan without a Security Council resolution.
Turkey too moved her troops to the Syrian border in October 1998, and threatened to invade Syria over its embrace of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and its leader Abdullah Ocalan. Turkish tanks were set to cross the borders into Aleppo without waiting for a Security Council resolution.
Look at the proposed tripartite military intervention as a limited regional campaign like so many others.
What could happen, a Russian intrusion? Impossible. Yes, the Russians would be furious and protesting. But the United States and the West would stand up for Saudi Arabia and Turkey, and at the minimum prevent blatant involvement by the Russians.
It would be a brisk and incisive campaign that would leave no time for the Russians to even airlift fresh arms supplies to the regime.
Iran, on the other hand, would never enter a full-scale war to save Bashar al-Assad. It would surely be foaming at the mouth. Some of its men would fight alongside the regime and perish with it.
But Iran won’t be foolhardy as to invade Bahrain or Kuwait for instance in retaliation to joint Arab-Turkish intervention to help out the Syrian people.
Without bona fide intervention, the Syria crisis would carry on for years. Lines have been drawn in the sand. There are no key figures left to carry out a palace coup or defect but hasn’t yet.
Sectarian officers and gang leaders are now commanding the regime’s war. It’s their war. Instead of turning against Bashar, they would protect him. Even if he fell, they would name a substitute from their lot. Their motto is, “Victory or death.”
Any Saudi or Turkish military analyst must recognize that the regime is winning as many points as it is losing. The regime has regained control of Douma and Darayya on the outskirts of Damascus. It has made up its mind and committed not to treat residents there as people it sought to win back but as enemies whose back it wants to break.
The last few days bear witness to the summary execution of hundreds of residents in townships vacated by the Free Syrian Army (FSA). We’ve seen images of countless bodies of victims with hands tied behind their backs and gunshot wounds to the head.
The people summarily executed were not FSA insurgents whose military strategy is to hit and run back to the rural areas. The victims were civilian inhabitants who tolerated the presence of FSA fighters in their townships.  Opposition sources say the summary executions by regime forces did not distinguish between FSA sympathizers and people who had stayed put at home.
The regime’s message is clear: “Whoever is not on my aside is against me.”
Before us is an example of the type of civil or liberation wars that “devour their own people” and peoples close by.
Who can say the Syrian liberation war won’t last as long as the Algerian liberation war, or that the Syrian civil war won’t last 15 years such as the Lebanese civil war?
Are Saudi Arabia and Turkey ready to tolerate decade-long and wide-ranging hostilities on their doorsteps liable to lead to Syria’s partition and regional intercessions, let alone spillovers – into Lebanon, for instance?
The agreed wisdom is they are not.
Conventional wisdom also posits that a blitz is a must-have.
A thrust by the Saudi and Jordanian armies advancing into southern Syria and a push by the Turkish army into northern Syria would secure quick gains. In the south, Deraa and Houran would be liberated within hours. Concurrently, Turkish forces would have moved into Aleppo in the north. Citizens would rush out to the streets to welcome their fraternal saviors. The regime’s armed forces would be in a state of shock and awe.
The next question would be when to move toward Damascus, which would already be within easy reach of Saudi and Jordanian forces.
Any military expert would tell you the Syrian army is seriously overstretched. Its supply lines are faltering. Its morale is low and it is hardly able to ward off FSA fighters.
Saudi Arabia could also assemble a bigger Arab striking force by co-opting contingents from Morocco, the UAE, Qatar and maybe Egypt. President Mohamed Morsi is already on record saying he wanted to help out his brothers in Syria.
But the concern is of the Syrian regime resorting, when on its deathbed, to “Option Zero” – namely the use of missiles armed with chemical warheads, including nerve agents.
The scenario is costly.
Strategy analysts in Adana will hasten to kill off the idea of a blitz because of the danger. They would say:
We’re not intervening. The free Syrians are fighting and are ready to die for their freedom. So let’s suffice with supporting the FSA.
But someone is bound to retort:
This has been our position for a year. We could not help the Syrians win their battle. We were reluctant to arm them. Some of us feared the arms would find their way into the wrong hands, specifically al-Qaeda.
We are trying to determine the extremists and moderates Syrian armed opposition ranks. But by hesitating, we are promoting extremism and driving the Syrian insurgents who are being bombed by regime warplanes into the arms of al-Qaeda and its bigots.
This is not to mention also that the idea of jihad in Syria is bound to draw into the battle Arab recruits, Saudis included.
We have to do something short of total war and beyond sending arms and communications equipment to the FSA.
A surgical airstrike against the chemical and biological weapons facilities is a good idea. It won’t only rid the regime of such a ghastly weapon, but deal it a mortal blow and pave the way for our rapid intervention.
The costs of civil strife in Syria dragging on for years far exceed the costs of a rapid intervention to end the crisis within days, notwithstanding the risks involved.
The regime’s sectarian army is exhausted, horrid and wobbly.
It’s time someone dealt it the coup de grâce for the sake of the region, the Syrian people and the additional 5,000 Syrians who will be killed in September and each month thereafter.
Indeed that’s the average monthly death toll in Syria until we see Arab and Turkish troops being greeted by Syrians packing Marjeh Square and waving Syria’s independence flag.

Sunday 26 August 2012

Darayya in Syria’s "Killing Fields"

I agonized the whole morning about publishing here grisly images of civilians executed by Syrian government forces in the town of Darayya yesterday.
Please forgive my heavy-hearted decision to go ahead and publish the images if only because in showing the brutality of the Syrian regime, “a picture is worth a thousand words.”
Newswires, broadcasters, activists, watchdogs and eyewitnesses say more than 300 bodies have been discovered in Darayya’s houses, basement shelters, cemeteries, alleyways and on the streets.
“Assad’s army has committed a massacre in Darayya,” an opposition member told Reuters.
The forces of President Bashar al-Assad launched an assault on the working-class Sunni Muslim township to the southwest of Damascus on Saturday, after days of heavy bombardment.
The BBC’s Barbara Plett in Beirut says the attack was part of a wider campaign to reclaim the southern outskirts of Damascus, where rebels have been regrouping since being driven out a month ago.
Video footage from activists showed numerous bodies of young men side-by-side at the dimly lit Abu Suleiman al-Darani mosque in Darayya, many with what looked like gunshot wounds to the head and chest.
“A massacre,” said the voice of the man who appeared to be taking the footage. “You are seeing the revenge of Assad's forces ... more than 150 bodies on the floor of this mosque.”
Syrian state TV said Darayya was being "cleansed of terrorist remnants.”
Syria’s semi-official Addounia TV posted video footage of a woman reporter going walkabout in Darayya, pointing at dead bodies on the streets, in alleyways and at a cemetery and saying all victims were “killed by the terrorist gangs.”
Images from activists' video footage at Darayya mosque

Images from activists' video footage at Darayya mosque

Images from activists' video footage at Darayya mosque

Images from activists' video footage at Darayya mosque
Images from Addounia TV reporter's walkabout in Darayya 
Images from Addounia TV reporter's walkabout in Darayya 
Images from Addounia TV reporter's walkabout in Darayya 

Saturday 25 August 2012

Stage is set for Non-Aligned bazaar in Tehran

After thinking and reading about prospects for the Non-Aligned Movement summit Tehran will be hosting next Wednesday and Thursday, I somehow remembered an old Arabic saying:
من حضر السوق باع واشترى

“Once in the marketplace, you either sell or buy”
If so, then I frankly don’t see what multinational issues of value – chiefly the pogrom in Syria, Iran’s nuclear ambitions and Gulf security -- can be “sold” or “bought” at the upcoming Tehran bazaar.
The conference will transform Tehran, which this week takes over the three-year rotating NAM presidency from Egypt, into a hub for hundreds of diplomats, including several heads of state.
They range from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to Egypt’s newly elected President Mohamed Morsi to Armenian President Serzh Sarkgsyan to Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani to Lebanese President Michel Suleiman to Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is under indictment by the International Criminal Court.
Yet, short of a coup de théâtre, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will stay away and let his Iranian opposite number Mahmud Ahmadinejad do the talking on his behalf.
Tehran has already started using the time in the spotlight to show Iran is not isolated and to prepare the ground for giving Assad a shot in the arm.
"Iran hosting the Non-Aligned conference is an opportunity to break the notion of sanctions and this false claim by Islam's enemies that Iran is isolated," said Sayyed Hassan Aboutorabi-Fard, parliament’s deputy speaker, in a sermon at Friday prayers.
The summit comes as the United Nations and the West have increased sanctions on Iran over its controversial nuclear program.
Ms Raghida Dergham, filing yesterday from New York for pan-Arab daily al-Hayat, says Ban Ki-moon “placed himself between the hammer and the anvil” by deciding to attend the NAM conference in Tehran.
In his speech to the conference, would Ban tell the host country in the face to come clean on its nuclear program and stop ignoring UN Security Council resolutions and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) warnings?
Would the UN chief repeat what he had told al-Hayat in a previous interview that Assad has “lost his legitimacy”?
An analysis of a UN General Assembly vote on August 3 condemning the Assad regime’s use of force against its own people showed that 70 of the 120 NAM members voted in favor and only eight voted against with Syria, Iran, China and Russia.
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said in remarks published Friday his country -- which describes Syria as part of the “Axis of Resistance” against Israel that it would not allow to be broken and stands accused by Washington of building and training a militia in Syria to prop up Assad -- would submit a proposal to the conference to end the Syria crisis.
"[Iran] has a proposal regarding Syria, which it will discuss with countries taking part in the NAM summit," Fars and Mehr news agencies quoted Salehi as saying on state television.
"This proposal is an acceptable and rational one, which includes all parties. Opposing it will be very difficult," the minister was quoted as saying.
Salehi renewed an Iranian offer to host talks between Damascus and the opposition after the NAM summit and the annual UN General Assembly meeting in September.
He said a "significant part of the Syrian opposition" was ready to participate but did not specify which opposition groups.
Lebanon’s pro-Assad daily al-Akhbar reports on its front-page today that the Iranian proposal “includes in part the formation of a national unity government that will bring together the two warring parties in Syria. But any oblique reference to the president (Assad) will neither be made or tabled by the Iranians who consider the subject taboo altogether.”
Editorially, Kuwait University professor and Gulf security expert and published author Zafer M. al-Ajami, writing for Bahrain’s daily al-Watan, believes leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) grouping Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates should shun the NAM summit in Tehran.
Among the reasons Ajami puts forward: (1) The GCC leaders’ chances of diplomatic success at the forum are substandard (2) Their proposed no-show should be explained in a statement underscoring Tehran’s practices in the Gulf region and its meddling in Gulf affairs over the past 30 years (3) By attending, GCC leaders would be condoning the presence of Ban Ki-moon -- who as head of the UN represents humanity’s conscience -- in a country backing Assad, “the violator of his own people’s humanity.”
Tariq Alhomayed, editor-in-chief of Saudi Arabia’s newspaper of records, dubs the summit of the Non-Aligned in Tehran “an alignment summit” par excellence.
He says the host country  “has been aligned against our region’s security and stability for decades, not days. The summit also comes at a time when Iran is aligning itself fully against the Syrian people and in favor of the Damascus criminal Bashar al-Assad.”
Salehi’s talk of a Syria initiative that will be difficult to oppose means Iran intends exploiting the summit to defend Assad “whose forces killed more than 4,000 people this month alone.”
Alhomayed says even Vali Nasr, “who I once renamed ‘Vali Washington’,” believes the summit will allow Iran to “end its diplomatic isolation.”
Accordingly, Alhomayed writes, ending Iran’s isolation means subscribing to its nuclear ambitions and its drive to undermine the Arab countries’ political economic and social interests and to tighten its hold on Iraq, Lebanon and Syria.
What the region needs to do, Alhomayed says, is challenge the alignment of Russia, China and Iran against the Syrian people.
“Mere participation in the Tehran summit is tantamount to alignment against the unarmed Syrian people, sustaining Iran’s complicity in shedding the Syrians’ blood and supporting Assad, the Damascus criminal.”

Thursday 23 August 2012

Wither Syria

Syria's death toll stands at 26,728 (

Ghassan Charbel, editor-in-chief of pan-Arab daily al-Hayat, penned this op-ed in Arabic
What remains of Syria
  • when her seat at the Arab League stays vacant and Arabs get used to her absence?
  • when her membership in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) is suspended (at the Mecca summit) in the presence of Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad?
  • when 133 member states of the UN General Assembly vote in favor of a resolution urging her government to begin a political transition to end her ordeal?
What remains of Syria
  • when a despairing Khaled Meshaal walks out on her after failing to convince her political leadership that politics, not violence, is the way forward to a solution and that a revolution is taking place and not excesses by armed gangs?
  • when the “Axis of Resistance” loses its sole Sunnite limb that gave it access to Gaza and the heart of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict?
What remains of Syria
  • when a Lebanese security branch dares arresting former government minister Michel Samaha after catching him red-handed smuggling explosives?
  • when Lebanese mass media say Samaha was given the haul of explosives by the topmost Syrian security officer?
  • when Michel Aoun falls remorsefully silent because Samaha was his road guide to Damascus, the roots of St. Maroun and the coalition of minorities?
What remains of Syria
  • when her army tanks blitz neighborhoods of Damascus, which was renowned as the region’s most secure and stable capital city?
  • when her warplanes pound Aleppo or obliterate a village here and another there?
What remains of Syria
  • when her citizens cram refugee camps in Jordan, queue for food rations in refugee camps in Turkey, or huddle in fear or grief in Lebanon’s north, Bekaa Valley and capital?
What remains of Syria
  • when her humanitarian crisis is one of the worst worldwide?
  • when 2.5 million of her citizens need urgent humanitarian assistance?
  • when another 1.5 million Syrians have been forcibly displaced from their homes?
  • when horrific killings become a daily sight and when decapitated bodies don’t make news headlines anymore?
What remains of Syria
  • when Baathists flee rural areas for fear of workers and peasants they previously claimed to represent ?
  • when thousands of officers and soldiers announce their defections from their army on TV screens?
  • when eyes refuse to even catch sight of shabbeeha wrongdoings?
What remains of Syria
  • when an explosion decapitates her security chiefs at their nerve center?
  • when a committed Baathist (Riad Hijab) accepts his designation as prime minister only to start planning his defection?
  • when the world is busy finding out who got killed, who defected and who is preparing to jump ship?
What remains of Syria
  • when her future becomes subject to a decision by Vladimir Putin, Iran’s supreme leader and (Hezbollah chief) Hassan Nasrallah with the acquiescence of the Iraqi prime minister after being their trump card and representing their strategic depth?
  • when all you hear after opening a map of the country is talk of mini-states and sectarian islets?
  • when roving fighters breach her borders, causing a problem for her insurgents and a future tragedy for the country?
It is an open secret the Syria we know is no more. The Syria of extortionate security and absolute solidity, Syria the juggler of cards outside her borders, Syria who had veto power on Palestinian and Lebanese matters and could manipulate Iraq, Jordan and Turkey’s stability has vanished.
Syria will most probably sink into a merciless civil war and her social fabric will be ripped apart. She will emerge from the long, nightmarish cycle of violence bloodied, frail and jerked around in a deadly struggle between Syrians and regional and international players vying to shape her future.
We’re sort of bidding farewell to the Syria we know. And whether healthful or ailing, Syria is in the habit of leaving her mark on the region.

Tuesday 21 August 2012

Syrians pay tribute to killed Japanese journalist

Mika Yamamoto

Yamamoto's body in the field hospital as her colleague Sato (top right) tries to stroke her forehead (below)

FSA members (top) escorted Yamamoto's body to southern Turkey
“Condolences from all of us Syrian people to the family of Mika Yamamoto. She has shared our tragic annihilation at Assad’s hands. May she rest in peace.”
Rana Kabbani, the Syrian writer, broadcaster and daughter of former Syrian ambassador to the United Sates Sabah Kabbani, posted these words on her Twitter page this morning as a tribute to the Japanese woman journalist killed by Syrian forces in Aleppo yesterday.
Mika Yamamoto, a 45-year-old award-winning journalist working for Tokyo-based independent newswire Japan Press, was fatally wounded while travelling with the Free Syrian Army (FSA), Reuters quoted a Japanese foreign ministry official as saying.
In a telephone interview with a Japanese TV news program, fellow Japan Press reporter Kazutaka Sato, who was travelling with Yamamoto, said it appeared government forces shot her.
“We saw a group of people in camouflage fatigues coming toward us. They appeared to be government soldiers. They started random shooting. They were just 20, 30 meters away or even closer,” said Sato.
He also told Japanese broadcaster TBS that Yamamoto had been shot in the neck.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said she was shot in the Sulaimaniya district of Aleppo, the scene of heavy fighting between government and rebel forces.
The Syrian activist group also said Bashar Fahmi, a Palestinian reporter for the U.S. government-funded broadcaster Al-Hurra, his Turkish cameramen Cüneyt Ünal, and an unnamed Lebanese journalist had disappeared in Aleppo.
Japan Press said on its website Yamamoto reported from Afghanistan under the Taliban and covered the 2003 Iraq war from Baghdad.
Yamamoto’s Iraq reporting won a Vaughn-Ueda prize given by the Japanese Newspaper Publishers and Editors Association and modeled after the U.S. Pulitzers media awards.
In April 2003 she narrowly escaped a U.S. tank’s attack on the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad, Jiji news agency said, while news agency Kyodo described her as a “pioneer video journalist”.
Yamamoto, who was born in 1967 and joined Japan Press in 1995, is the first Japanese killed in the current armed conflict in Syria, the ministry official said.
A video posted on YouTube overnight showed Yamamoto’s badly injured body lying in a makeshift field hospital.
One clip shows Sato, her colleague, bending over her body as if to stroke her forehead.
In the YouTube video, a group of FSA fighters led by Capt. Ahmed Ghazali are shown escorting Yamamoto’s body to southern Turkey.
"We welcome any journalist who wants to enter Syria," Ghazali says. "We will secure their entry, but we are not responsible for the brutality of Assad's forces against the media."
“It is extremely regrettable that a Japanese reporter was gunned down and killed,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said at a daily news briefing. “We reproach such an act and offer our heartfelt condolences to those left behind.”
The dead woman's father, retired journalist Koji Yamamoto, said reports of her death were "too much to bear."
"I can't believe it until I see her with my own eyes," the 77-year-old told Jiji Press by telephone.
"She was always talking about tragic people who were caught in conflicts, human lives and world peace. She was more than I was... she is a wonderful reporter and daughter," he said.
"We mourn the loss of our colleague Mika Yamamoto and send our deepest condolences to her family and friends," said CPJ (Committee to Protect Journalists) Executive Director Joel Simon. "Syria has become the most dangerous place in the world for both local and international journalists."
Yamamoto is the fourth foreign reporter to have died in the violence in Syria since March 2011.
French reporter Gilles Jacquier was killed on January 11 at central Syria's Homs, where American journalist Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik died on February 22.
Maj. Gen. Jamil Hassan
On the day Yamamoto was killed, the Arabic language website of Russian broadcaster Russia Today quoted an unnamed Arab source as saying a high-ranking Syrian military official had died in a Russian hospital and a private jet had flown his body back from Moscow to Damascus.
Syrian activists and the FSA have since named the Syrian officer as Maj. Gen. Jamil Hassan, head of Air Force Intelligence.
Maj. Gen. Hassan presumably suffered serious injuries in the July 18 bomb blast that killed Assad’s brother-in-law and his defense minister and decapitated the Syrian security hierarchy.
In its profiles last month of President Bashar al-Assad’s inner circle members, the BBC recalled that Maj. Gen. Hassan replaced Abdulfattah Qudsiya as head of Air Force Intelligence in 2009.
Though smaller than Military Intelligence, AFI is seen by some as the elite agency of Syria's intelligence empire. The agency owes its power to Hafez al-Assad, who was air force chief before coming to power in a coup.
AFI was originally tasked with protection of the Air Force, including the president’s plane and the president himself during his trips abroad.
It now plays a leading role in operations against opposition groups, as well as covert actions abroad, and has a reputation for brutality.
Gen. Hassan, an Alawite, previously served as a security official in the eastern governorate of Deir Ezzor.
In late April 2011, personnel from Air Force Intelligence fired tear gas and live ammunition to disperse crowds of demonstrators who took to the streets in Damascus and other cities after noon prayers, killing at least 43 people, according to the US.
The next month, the EU said Gen Hassan was "involved in the repression against the civilian population" during the recent anti-government unrest, and imposed a travel ban on him and froze his assets.