Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Syria: the price of inaction

7/2 "Syria capital Damascus sees heavy Jobar fighting". Qaboun ... SOHR - rebels attacked a security checkpoint between the northeast Qaboon district and Abassid Square near the centre of the capital ...

22:30 Leon Panetta says he supported and still supports supply of arms to Syrian rebels. (BBC WS). More on this (C-span, 10/2). John McCain asks Panetta and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, did you, like then Secretary of State Clinton and and then head of the CIA David Petraeus, support arming the rebels ? "We did". C-span's coverage (shown on BBC Parliament) of the congressional hearing ends rather abruptly there, but The Economist continues: "the White House vetoed the idea."

8/2  Government shelling of ringroad in Damascus, also Deraa. Ansari, Aleppo (report, Zeina Khodr): some residents don't agree with Khatib's offer of talks (al Jazeera).
9/2 Khatib names Syrian deputy president, Farouk al-Sharaa, as possible partner for talks. (Inside Syria)
Syrian army steps up offensive to try to recapture southern ringroad in Damascus - Jobar and Qaboon, NW of road. Rebels make gains in Aleppo, Zeina Khodr reports, cutting off link from airport  (al Jazeera).
11/2 Report from Homs (Newsday, 8:20) Khatib, in Cairo, calls for foreign intervention, because regime is not just (al Jazeera).
12/2 Rebels claim capture of airbase in Aleppo (al Jazeera).
13/2 Qatar recognizes opposition control of embassy (BBC WS, 9:00; al Jazeera).  FSA control village of al Giza (?), Deraa. Rocket attack on al Rastan, Homs.
Funeral for senior officer of Iranian revolutionary guard, killed in Syria, Zabadani, near Lebanon border, Hessam Shateri (al Jazeera).
Fighting around Damascus and on 2 major highways in Homs (BBC WS, 22:00).
14/2  Video shows 2 government planes shot down in Idlib province (al Jazeera).
16/2  Rebels capture Sfeira military base near Aleppo. Airstrikes on Damascus and Zaizoun, Deraa province. Kidnapping of women in Idlib province: 2 busloads taken, 1 government retaliation for rebel action; interview with SOHR; shows increasing sectarianism; Maarat al Numan; bus from al Foua, N of Idlib, to Damascus  (al Jazeera). Zaizoun: important border post (BBC WS, 21:30). 

17/2 Brahimi proposes talks on UN premises (BBC WS, al Jazeera)
18/2 UN report: army and pro-government militia spreading terror. Opposition also committing crimes, but not on same scale (al Jazeera).
EU ministers maintain arms embargo, after disagreement with Britain, which had been pushing for more arms to opposition. Rebels take checkpoint near 2nd largest airport (BBC WS, 17:00) Britain and other countries wanted more, but EU promises more aid to civilians and "technical support" (whatever that means). A compromise was reached (BBC R4, 18:00, Jim Muir). It was Britain and Italy, against Germany (BBC WS, 00:00).
19/2 Rebel-held areas ... 2,500 cases of typhoid, people drinking from Euphrates. Smuggling into NE Syria, Latakia province. Scud missile attack - huge damage, 19 killed *, east of Aleppo. "Where are the Arabs?", people defiant, Youtube video (al Jazeera). * 31 killed, bodies still being dug out - SOHR.  (26/2, it is said that 140, including 71 children were killed by these missile strikes - C4N.) Rebel gains around airport, imans' call to Allah (BBCR4, Ian Panel).
20/2 Continued shelling around Dara, in suburbs of Damascus. Rebels claim to have shot down government fighter jet  (al Jazeera).

21/2 Massive car bomb in Damascus, at checkpoint near Ba'ath HQ, al-Nusra front accused. Number of smaller explosions, according to opposition, unconfirmed. One in al-Mazra'a, says Syrian state TV. Opposition coalition, in Cairo, denies involvement - we do not target civilians. Syrian government confiscates assets of al Jazeera presenter (al Jazeera). Opposition considers options for political solution (BBC WS, 17:00). Damascus bomb: opposition sites claim that the same man is seen repeatedly on state TV footage, sometimes as a civilian, sometimes in uniform, expressing the regime's line (C4N).  I think it is likely that the bombing was carried out by al-Nusra or some similar group.

23/2 Syrian Opposition Coalition pulls out of talks with Friends of Syria and in Moscow & Washington due to failure of West to condemn missile attacks on civilians (al Jazeera), due to continued Russian supply of Scud missiles, even technicians to help fire them (BBC WS, 21:00).
24/2 Fighting in Aleppo. Airstrikes in Douma, north of Damascus. Report - war gear sold in Antakya (al Jazeera). US condemns rocket attacks on Aleppo (BBC WS, 21:00).
25/2 Kerry & Hague, in London, make strong pleas for opposition to attend talks (BBC R4, 18:00). Opposition to attend talks in Rome, reversing previous decision (BBC WS, 22:30). Large explosion, followed by gunfire in Damascus (C4News, 19:00) ... , eastern suburb (BBC WS, 22:00)
26/2 Helicopters shot down. Saudis supplying weapons via Croatia to moderates (C4N). Saudis Step Up Help for Rebels in Syria With Croatian Arms

27/2 US may directly assist FSA - joint US-EU action (al Jazeera).

The Economist's leader, 23/2, concludes:
Mr Obama’s policy of waiting for the conflagration in Syria to burn itself out is failing. Rather than see things deteriorate still further, he should act.

His aim should be to preserve what is left of Syria. That means trying to convince the people around Mr Assad that their choice is between ruinous defeat and turfing out the Assad family as a prelude to talks with the rebels. A no-fly zone is still needed to ground Mr Assad’s air force and destroy some of his missiles. It would be a big, bold signal of America’s resolve to Mr Assad’s supporters. America should recognise a transitional government, selected from Syria’s opposition. It should arm non-jihadist rebel groups—including with limited numbers of anti-aircraft missiles. France and Britain would back this, even if other Europeans would not. Russia supports Mr Assad in part to frustrate Mr Obama. Europe and America should keep on trying to tempt it to give him up, by promising it a stake in a liberated Syria.

There are no guarantees that this policy will work. But it will at least build links with the non-jihadist rebels whom
America will need as allies in the chaos if Mr Assad stays. Today those moderate Syrians feel utterly abandoned.
It's difficult to disagree with that. Incidentally, as I mentioned at the end of a previous post, it is said that March 6th could be "the catalyst ... for an international solidarity movement". The man on al Jazeera hoped that this might include the "anti-war" movement. I don't think there's much chance of that. The silence of "the Left" has been deafening ... and shameful.


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