Syria Update, August 17, 2013 (Institute of Middle Eastern Studies by Sherifa Zuhur)
Current death toll is 157.
The SAA has heavily shelled Daraa al-Balad.
Friday anti-regime protests took place in Marea, Amouda, Kherbet Ghazleh in Dar`a, in Homs, Marshourin in Idlib, Harasta,
Heavy clashes took place as the SAA fought the opposition near Aleppo’s airport. SANA claims that the regime has pushed rebels back on both sides of the airport.
The SAA clashed with the opposition near the Damascus airport. Clashes continued last night and through the morning in the southern neighborhoods of Damascus.
Gunners were firing from the al-Qassioun, the mountains which overlook Damascus.
FSA Deputy Commander Colonel Malik al-Kurdi said the 48 Iranian hostages in Syria were not pilgrims – there were no pilgrims at this time in Syria – they were Revolutionary Guards and they will be freed if the Iranian government tries to help to end the bloodshed in Syria.
Many people and children (at least 103) are sick from sewage-contaminated water in the suburbs of Damascus in a diarrhea and possibly e-coli outbreak according to the World Health Organization.
Bashar al-Assad and his associates have assets as high as $25 billion in investments in state industries, banks and elsewhere but have secured the money in other investments and offshore tax havens. The Syrian National Council is beginning to interview firms who may help locate these funds. http://www.yalibnan.com/2012/08/17/race-to-find-assads-billions-is-already-underway/#more-44557
Western countries like France, the UK and the US are not willing to supply the opposition with any weapons nor apparently supplies, rather, aid is going towards food and medical supplies for the refugees. Despite the claims that the opposition is being heavily armed by Gulf states, and according to one report, Libya, there is very little evidence of these arms. Instead the opposition is relying on smugglers to bring in inadequate supplies.
Yesterday, an Air France plane was diverted to Damascus instead of landing at Beirut’s airport due to fighting there. The Syrian authorities refused to refuel the plane as they would not accept credit card payment. The passengers were asked to pony up cash, but in the end, the plane was allowed to refuel and traveled to Cyprus and from there to Beirut.
Another Lebanese, from the al-Qasas family has been kidnapped in the Mdierij area either as part of a wave of kidnappings in revenge for the kidnapping of a Hizbullah member in Syria, or a copy-cat event. A businessman who owns a car-wash business, Raja Zouhouri is presumed kidnapped; he is missing and a Turkish national, Abd Basset Orssolane was kidnapped in Choueifat.
At least one Syria observer has speculated that Iran must have played a role in the al-Mekdad large-scale kidnapping of 20 or so Syrians and a Turkish and Qatari national – that these were in revenge for the kidnapping of Iranian nationals in Syria rather than the single member of the al-Mekdad family.
President Abdullah Gul stated that the allegations that the Syrian regime is supplying arms to the PKK are very likely true and warned that Turkey may respond with military action if it faces a “terrorist threat” from the north of Syria.
The United Nations reported that Lakhdar Brahimi will take over for Kofi Annan. The U.S. called on the United Nations to explain more about Lakhdar Brahimi’s mandate since the UN Observer Mission to Syria is shutting down.
Former Syrian prime minister Riad Hijab is in Qatar for meetings concerning Syria and unification of the opposition.
Russia rejected the idea of no-fly zones to be established in Syria saying that their purpose would be military; whereas the U.S.’s Clinton said the no-fly zones need careful consideration.
Adrian Edwards, a spokesman of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said there had been a sharp rise in the numbers of Syrian refugees fleeing the country. About 3,500 from Aleppo, Azaz, Idlib and Latakia reached the Kilis and Hatay provinces of Turkey from Tuesday to Wednesday.
Basic Facts about Syria:
Population: 22,530,746 Ethnicities: Arab 90.3%, Kurds, Armenians, and other 9.7% Religious Groups: Sunni Muslim (74%, other Muslim (includes Alawite, Isma`iliyya, Druze) 16%, Christian 10%, Jewish (very small numbers).
GDP Growth Rate: -2% (2011) GDP: $64.7 billion
GDP Growth Rate: -2% (2011)
Unemployment: 8.3% Youth Unemployment (ages 15-24): 19.1% (female unemployment in that age category is 49.1%
Internet Users: 4.469 million (2009)
Exchange Rate: 46.456 Syrian pounds per US dollar
Military Expenditures: 5.9% of GDP (2005)
Population Growth Rate: -0797.% (since the conflict)
Population Age Structure: 0-14 years: 35.2%; 15-64 years: 61%; 65 years and over: 3.8%
Literacy: male 86% female 73.6%
Urban Population: 56% of total (2010)
Syrian Arab Army (prior to the conflict) 220,000 regular and 280,000 reserves. Of the 200,000 career soldiers, 140,000 are Alawi.
Syria’s Golan Heights is occupied by Israel and 1,000 members of a U.N. Disengagement Observer Force patrol a buffer zone.